After struggling with drugs and alcohol during high school, Caroline Miller felt alone during her time as an undergraduate at University of Wisconsin as she dealt with recovery.
“I was trying to stay sober and I was having a very difficult time doing that because of the lack of visible support on campus,” Miller said. “I really felt like I was alone in the crowd.”
Her experience dealing with recovery as a college student led Miller to get involved as a mentor with Connections Counseling, working with youth new to the recovery process.
Miller said Connections serves more than 300 people between the ages of 18 and 30, and works closely with University Health Services, offering Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students classes and counseling services to students who are referred to them.
“That’s the reality of what’s going on in Madison,” Miller said. “A lot of people are reaching out for help.”
Tom Meyer, founder of Aaron’s House, said he developed the recovery living space after his son Aaron Meyer, who struggled with addiction and was in recovery, was killed in a car accident.
Following the accident, Meyer said he decided to develop the community and bought a house for young men in recovery in 2007.
“As a college student in recovery, it is overwhelming,” he said. “You are one in a crowd, so having a place where you can go or other like-minded people are coming up with things to do, talking about challenges, makes a huge difference in your life.”
Meyer said a way Aaron’s House serves students in recovery is by connecting them with employment and education resources, offering volunteer assistance with preparing resumés and targeting jobs to match the individual’s skills.
While UW has a reputation as one of the top party schools in the nation, Meyer said he thinks there should be recognition for the work that is done in Madison to help students in recovery.
“Whether or not the University of Wisconsin is considered number one party school in the nation, that’s not my issue. I believe that Wisconsin and Madison in particular have all the assets necessary to one day be written up as a great place to go and get well for young people in recovery,” he said.
Ginger Morgan, director of Residential Community at Pres House, said the Next Step Recovery Program, which is set to open next fall, will offer students a similar support network to recover.
The programs available for students who choose to live substance free or who seek recovery assistance do not look to change the campus’ reputation, but rather to offer alternatives to those who want them, she said.
“What we want is to build a reputation that students in recovery have a place here, that there is a safe, vibrant, student community to support students in recovery so they don’t feel like they have to avoid Madison to be healthy,” Morgan said.
Although there are available resources in Madison, Meyer said there should be more involvement from UW for support.
One thing Meyer said he would like to see is the start of a collegiate recovery center.
“If UW doesn’t like the binge drinking image, well change the conversation. Let’s talk about what we do for kids who want to get well,” Meyer said.