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A way from addiction

Teresa Mathew/Daily
A Way from Addiction Buy this photo

By Paige Pearcy, Deputy Magazine Editor
Published January 13, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day: a marathon of skipping classes, being drunk before 10 a.m. and taking long naps. But maybe it’s not. For then-LSA senior Paige, Saturday, March 17, 2012 was hard. A year ago, she would have been with the thousands of students drinking and participating in festivities. But this year, with about ten other students, she was roller-skating — sober.

Paige is an alcoholic in recovery. While she has since graduated from the University, she was in the special circumstance of being in college and recovery simultaneously. LSA sophomore Jake joined Paige in his own recovery efforts as an alcoholic on campus last year through the Collegiate Recovery Program.

Jennifer Cervi, school of social work graduate student, helped start CRP with Mary Jo Desprez, the University's alcohol and other drug policy and prevention administrator, in the fall of 2011 as a part of her master’s in social work internship. Previously, there was a campus organization called Students for Recovery, which was then incorporated into CRP.

Cervi is working with the members to spread awareness of the group on campus.

“I would like no student to not know that it’s available to them,” said Cervi, who modeled the program after a similar group at Texas Tech University. “I would like the stigma around recovery to be changed on this campus.”

Jake knew about CRP before he came to the University and thought it would help make the school a good fit.

“I walk around campus and feel like I’m so different than everybody else, and I have to focus on these things that people at 19, 20 (and) 21 years old just aren’t thinking about,” Jake said. “The coolest part for me is being able to see other people in the program around campus and having that established connection with them. Having people to talk to about the same issues that you’re experiencing on campus because they know what it’s like.”

I met Paige and Jake on separate occasions, but in the same quiet room shrouded with wood panels and soundproof windows. A long wooden table ran between us. The room felt safe, a choice I considered when picking the location. Paige and I spoke in March, when she was an LSA senior getting ready to leave. Jake and I talked this summer while he was in Ann Arbor after finishing his first year of courses.

Though two people going through their own college experience could be widely dissimilar, their stories both share a theme: Paige and Jake are both in recovery from alcoholism and addiction.

And they’re not alone in their addiction, but are more of an anomaly for seeking recovery. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 19 percent of college students are either abusive or dependent on alcohol. And of that 19 percent, only 5 percent seek treatment.

“When you’re in college, the penalties for heavy use are not great because if you wake up and you’re too hung over to attend class, you can get away with it or if you screw up on an exam you can get away with it,” Psychology Prof. Robert Zucker, director of the University’s Addiction Research Center, said. “But if you show up at work and you’re acting this way, you immediately have a problem. Those are the kinds of external factors which lead one to decrease use.”

Zucker — who oversees the center’s both social and scientific research regarding addiction — said research is still being conducted to determine whether or not effects from addiction are permanent.

“We know the brain is undergoing major developmental changes between the ages of about 12 and 25,” Zucker said. “So if one is drinking very heavily or has other drug involvement, if that leaves some kind of permanent residual damages that does not repair itself afterwards, we don’t have the answer to that yet. It’s a very important question”

For students, it will be a very important answer.

I turned to Paige and Jake to put a voice to the data that taunts us in the news: “drinking amongst students increases,” “binge drinking reaches new high,” “university presidents call for lower drinking age.” I knew that Paige and Jake struggled with addiction when I met them, but the specifics I couldn’t have imagined. So I asked them for their stories.

“Can we start at the beginning?” I asked Paige as she sat down. Both Paige and Jake started their stories by going back to high school.

In late March, Paige missed our first interview due to her “nine-month sobriety anniversary.” But there was no celebration because, as Paige noted, that would be similar to a graduation, and there’s no graduation from their program.

“We can’t even have one drink and never again will be able to have a drink,” Paige said. “As alcoholics, we don’t know moderation and never will.