In 2006, Eric Van Eck was a freshman nursing student at New Jersey College with the world at his fingertips.He has a stable relationship with his high school girlfriend and a supportive family in Rockaway, NJ

Things started to fall apart the summer before his senior year, when his girlfriend’s brother, his close, passed away and the two broke up. Van Eyck was destroyed. By then, the disturbing conditions that Van Eyck witnessed during his clinical rotation also took a toll on his mood. He decided to switch to engineering, which required him to start college all over again. To cope with the stress, he tried new substances, including prescription painkillers, as well as marijuana and alcohol, which he had consumed since he was a teenager.

In the fall, Van Eyck returned to a college called TCNJ again as a freshman, this time with “full-blown substance use disorder.” He joined a fraternity where alcohol flowed freely. Once a brilliant student, he now feels “nothing else matters except being on top”. His grades plummeted.

In 2012, three years after restarting, he was expelled from TCNJ for poor academic performance.

“At that point, I continued to put my life underground,” Van Eyck said.

In 2016, Van Eyck checked into a treatment facility, which helped him recover from a substance use disorder. He applied to TCNJ to complete the work he started ten years ago. be rejected. He applied again. be rejected. He said he applied “over and over again” until the TCNJ finally read him back in 2017.

By then, TCNJ had started a program to help students like Van Eck stay awake: a college rehabilitation community, funded by state grants starting in 2015. There, he met other recovering students, was treated by a certified drug and alcohol counselor, and lived in a substance-free dorm — a far cry from the days he spent drinking at his frat house. same.

In 2018 — 12 years after he went to college — he graduated with a degree in public health.

The rehab program “has absolutely changed my life for me,” Van Eck said. “I had a lot of shame, a lot of guilt, a lot of different feelings…it helped me find my voice.”

Students in recovery are actively seeking out non-alcohol-centric activities. They’ve been there, done that thing, and it didn’t work out for them.

University rehabilitation programs have grown significantly since 1977, when Brown University professors established the position of “Chemistry Dependent Dean” in their colleges. The Higher Education Rehabilitation Association, which represents college rehabilitation programs, now has 156 member institutions across the country, and many more programs exist outside its remit, though it’s unclear how many offer them.

Research shows that these programs can have promising results. A 2018 survey found that nearly 90 percent of alumni of such programs did not relapse after graduation, and data from Texas Tech University showed that participants in its rehabilitation programs had higher average GPAs and graduation rates.

But college recovery programs remain small and relatively unknown, often tied to the student behavior system. Experts say there should be more “touch points” so students with substance use issues don’t get stuck and those seeking substance-free scholarships on campus can find it.

by number

Despite what pop culture might lead you to believe, not all college students use drugs and alcohol.

Many people don’t drink at all, or drink very little. In the American College Health Association’s most recent National College Health Assessment — which surveyed more than 33,000 students at 41 colleges last fall — nearly a quarter of respondents said they had never consumed alcohol. Just over half of respondents said they had drank alcohol in the past two weeks, compared with 27.5 percent who drank heavily or drank five or more alcoholic beverages over the same period.

Christopher Freeman, founder of the New Jersey College Recovery Program and assistant director of alcohol and drug support services, said he thinks the campus myth that everyone is drinking can lead to overconsumption.

He said the college rehab program creates space for students seeking alternatives to the drinking and drug culture on campus. These programs can include students in recovery as well as “recovery allies” who may be affected by a family member or friend’s addiction.

“Students in recovery are actively seeking out activities that aren’t alcohol-centric,” Freeman said. “They’ve been there, they’ve done that, and it didn’t work out for them.”

According to the American College Health Association, 1.6 percent of students said they were recovering from substance abuse, and 1.1 percent reported being diagnosed with alcohol or drug abuse.

Every campus has students recovering from substance abuse, even though they may not be known to administrators, said Jim Langer, executive director of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Rehabilitation at The Ohio State University.

In addition to students struggling with substance abuse, these programs provide support to students whose loved ones are facing addiction issues.

“The reach,” Freeman said, “extends well beyond what is sometimes considered a small group of students.”

Create a connection

For students to seek help through a college rehab program, they need to know that they exist.

Experts say one of the main ways students learn about them is through their university’s behavioral system, which may refer students who are struggling with alcohol or drugs to these programs.

But, Langer said, struggling students often already have “high engagement” with colleges — dorm residents, fraternity and sorority members, athletes.

“If they don’t belong to any of these groups, there may be far fewer touchpoints for campuses to identify students,” Langer said. “They’re not going to get in trouble in college because anything they do usually gets them in trouble off campus.”

Aaron Wilson Watson, College of New Jersey

Eric Van Eck: “My job is to advise these beautiful people. They all have amazing things to offer this campus.”

Those students could be in trouble. As a way to find them, Langer recommends screening the general student population, which can help identify older students, graduate students, non-residential students and students who are not involved in Greek life. One way universities can do this, Langer said, is to screen everyone who passes through the health center.

While it is true that behavioral systems are critical to connecting students with the help they need, the disciplinary process can also jeopardize their ability to continue their studies.

“We identify students based on having trouble,” Langer said. “But getting into trouble puts them at risk of successfully staying at university while they are trying to change their substance use.”

Kristina Canfield, interim executive director of the Higher Education Recovery Association, said students should see college recovery plans not as punishment but as support.

At TCNJ—a public university with about 7,800 students—students learn about recovery plans through a variety of avenues, including through the Student Conduct System and their deans. The program staff also runs a table at events fairs and orientation and maintains an active social media presence.

There’s also RECreate Your Night in the entertainment division, which offers substance-free programming, including scavenger hunts, game tournaments and basketball, every Thursday night, funded by state grants.

Freeman, assistant director of alcohol and drug support services at TCNJ, said having plenty of opportunities for substance-free connections is important because a message is unlikely to reach everyone who may need it.

We identify students based on having trouble. But getting into trouble puts them at risk of successfully staying in college.

“If I send an email to everyone, how many people actually read it?” he said. “If I post on social media, how many people are actually following a personal account? If I put up banners promoting a campaign on campus, how many people are actually doing that, right?”

Robert Mitten, a junior at TCNJ and vice president of college rehabilitation communities, discovered the program after contacting an official from the college’s alcohol and drug education program who linked him to Freeman .

“I didn’t think about it for a while,” Mitten said, “but once I really needed it, I was like, ‘Oh, wait, that’s an option.'”

Mitten now leads many recovery meetings. He said about six to eight people come every week.

Faculty and staff can also be an important touchpoint for college rehabilitation programs because of their frequent interactions with students, Canfield said.

“They’re probably the first people on campus to recognize that students may be in trouble, that students may need help,” she said.

recovery is possible

In his first job at college, Van Eck said, he wasn’t sure if he was ready for a rehab program. At that time, he said, his “denials were still deep.”

Still, if it were available, Van Eck said, “I thought it would be beneficial to have some interaction and plant that seed. But it wasn’t. So it was completely new to me.”

After graduating from TCNJ, Van Eck went to work in recovery support for a nonprofit in Northern New Jersey. Until he found out that the position to oversee the TCNJ University rehabilitation community was open.

In January, he started working at TCNJ as the Rehabilitation and Prevention Coordinator, mentoring students who struggled with the same issues he faced in college. He said his post was also funded by state grants.

“We can learn from each other, and I can share some of my experiences,” Van Eck said. “My job is to advise these beautiful people. They all have amazing things to offer this campus.”

Van Eyck wants to show that recovery is possible, even as alcohol and drugs abound on campus.

“Faculty and staff, institutional staff, and the majority of the student body will not let you down because you choose not to use substances,” he said. “Most people’s reaction…was, ‘Oh wow, that’s really cool. I’m glad you made that decision for yourself, and you’re better.'”