Graduating from high school is such an exciting time for many seniors! The pandemic made a lot of schools creative in how they could observe graduation in honor of its seniors. Unfortunately, millions were not able to attend prom while others were with mask and social distancing.
August means going back to school. Millions will be preparing to attend college out of state and going away to a new city or town can seem like an adventure for some, while for others it can be anxiety inducing due to leaving home and family. This is the perfect time for both parents and their college freshman to develop a schedule around how often they will be face-timing. Face-timing is key because it provides a visual parents' can use as a tool to notice if something is not right.
With no longer living at home and going away to college, new responsibilities are on the horizon between waking up on time and attending classes to managing your own schedule. Colleges and Universities market and promote the beauty of their campus, how well particular programs rank throughout the nation and state, their extra-curricular activities, etc! Although institutions do not promote the use of alcohol and/or drugs, it is expected by many to engage and is the misperceived campus norm when attending college.
There have been cases were college students develop an opioid dependence from obtaining them from friends on campus. What happens when your young adult suffers from substance misuse or worse, dies from an overdose? It can be very difficult to admit having a substance misuse problem when living in an environment that encourages using and partying. Educators are usually in a position where they have minimal leverage to help students with substance misuse problems. By the time the issue does come to surface, the student suffers because of the lack of support provided by their institution.
Young adults should be able to have a recovery system in place for when they are experiencing their life spiraling out of control due to misusing a substance. Some institutions have mental health counselors readily available, but not substance abuse counselors.
Institutions can provide support with the expertise of substance abuse counselors as to how it can build a campus-based infrastructure that works with students to prevent substance misuse and relapse, while promoting academic performance. This effort should be community based for the entire student population and institution as a collegiate recovery community or community of recovery professionals on campus. This type of community will enable students to learn how to create a new circle of friends and not return to the same friends who sold and/or used drugs with them.
The institution can set up additional support for students, helping them navigate campus resources and maintain their recovery in the face of misperceived campus norms. Students can be treated on an outpatient basis to avoid having to withdraw from school and retake the classes upon their return. If a student does need inpatient care, institutions may consider implementing a drug return program. Not all college counseling centers provide opioid addiction treatment and are referred out to local doctors, but colleges can have Narcan (Naloxone) nasal spray on hand to reverse overdoses of opioids including prescription painkillers and heroin.
Students that are opioid-dependent can be safely and effectively treated with buprenorphine (Suboxone) in their institution's counseling center, but some students may perceive that their taking Suboxone has cured their addiction so they stop treatment (counseling, 12-step meetings, sponsorship, etc). Another option for students can be sustained-release Naltrexone (Vivitrol). Vivitrol is a pill or administered as a shot, once a month, which can help with the student not having to taper or stop treatment when they are ready. Vivitrol blocks opioid receptors in the brain and does not activate them, blocking the effects of opioids. Students cannot get high on Vivitrol, but they have to detox from opioids about a week before they can start it, which can be a disadvantage.
Substance misuse happens at college and although this is not new news, ignoring substance misuse at college does not make it go away. Collegiate recovery, having support for students in recovery attending college, should be the new norm across the nation and not an afterthought when institution's public relations department fail to revive the school's reputation from several tragic substance misuse incidents. Institutions have to consider their specific circumstances and student's needs when setting up its recovery efforts. Admitting substance misuse is becoming more prevalent and can be the first step. Early intervention matters as the use of drugs and alcohol has risen since the onset of the pandemic!