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Treatment and Recovery

“Treatment” is typically defined as any inpatient or outpatient counseling, psychotherapy, or psychopharmacologic intervention with a student whose AOD use has established a pattern defined as abuse or dependence. Assessment of these patterns is most often based on the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or other assessment tools effective in diagnosing alcohol and other drug problems. The term “recovery” encompasses the entire process of addressing AOD abuse or dependence, including early intervention and treatment.  

According to a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) as many as 31 percent of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol abuse disorder and up to six percent suffer from alcohol dependence. Some students arrive on campus with pre-existing alcohol problems, while others develop one during their college career. These students may regularly engage in dangerous drinking patterns and risky behaviors despite recurring negative consequences and may suffer from symptoms like tolerance or withdrawal. Though the comprehensive population-level prevention efforts that many campuses employ may be successful with a large portion of the student population, more intensive individual-focused treatment programs are needed for those students who are already experiencing serious alcohol problems.

The HSPH study also found that that only six percent of alcohol abusing and less than two percent of alcohol dependent students have actually sought treatment since entering college. Other studies have found that students who report experiencing negative alcohol-related consequences, such as getting in fights and driving after drinking, rarely perceive themselves as having a drinking problem. These findings indicate that even students with severe alcohol problems are not likely to recognize them or refer themselves to treatment. Thus the first step is to properly screen students, especially high-risk groups such as freshmen, athletes, and members of the Greek system, and identify those in need of intervention, treatment, or recovery services. 

Once students have been identified, campuses need to have effective treatment services and systems of referral in place to address their alcohol problems.

Effective Treatment for College Students

Though research on college-specific treatment services is lacking, promising models and strategies do exist.

Examples of On-Campus Treatment and Recovery Programs

Some campuses are finding ways to support students who are abusing or dependent on alcohol and other drugs.

Providing On and Off-Campus Treatment and Recovery Services: Elements to Consider

Connecting students with the treatment services they need can be challenging.


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