Jefferson Program Offers a Safe Space for Addiction Recovery
College marks a time of great change and growth for many students. But with accelerated coursework, heightened expectations and a new social environment, it also can be a place when young adults become more vulnerable to developing or progressing addictive behaviors and substance use disorders.
Rams for Recovery, a student- and faculty-led program on our East Falls campus, is making a difference by providing recovery support and breaking down the stigma associated with addiction.
Addiction Among College Students
College can be a challenging transition. Students may grapple with a mountain of stressors, including dealing with finances, finding a unique identity or keeping up academically in a fast-paced, competitive environment.
About 4% of students on college campuses are in recovery at any given time. At Jefferson, with more than 8,400 students enrolled, that equates to around 330 students in recovery on our campus who could use support. –Dr. Yoon Suh Moh
“Many students feel the pressure to do whatever it takes to ‘make it through’ and meet the demands they’re facing,” says Thomas Smith, a community and trauma counseling student who helps lead the Rams for Recovery program. “This attitude can make it hard to prioritize self-care, and people often turn to substances to cope.”
One of the biggest problems students encounter when struggling with addiction is the stigma associated with both addiction and recovery, says Dr. Yoon Suh Moh, Rams for Recovery faculty lead and community and trauma counseling assistant professor.
“Many people don’t understand recovery and don’t want to talk about it,” she says. “But according to our literature review, one study suggested about 4% of students on college campuses are in recovery at any given time. At Jefferson, with more than 8,400 students enrolled, that equates to around 330 students in recovery on our campus who could use support. We established Rams for Recovery to extend that support and provide resources to students facing addiction and their allies.”
A Recovery-Friendly Campus
In 2021, Dr. Moh partnered with a former community and trauma counseling faculty member to apply for a grant from Independence Blue Cross to research how students in recovery can be supported by their educational institution. They set out to design a program on our East Falls campus aimed at providing students with resources for addiction recovery. The program is also a grant-funded, institutional review board-approved study to explore the lived experiences of college students in recovery.
“Our research focuses primarily on recovery from potentially inappropriate prescription drug use,” Dr. Moh says. “However, the help we provide students is intentionally inclusive, supporting recovery for both chemical and non-chemical addictions, as well as addictive behaviors, like gambling.”
The program’s main goal is to help promote a recovery-friendly campus environment, connect students with the counseling center if needed and give them the resources they need to seek help.
They hold weekly meetings to work toward the program’s goals, including the development and maintenance of peer support groups for those in recovery. In addition, they host campus-wide monthly events to help educate students on and spread awareness of recovery resources.
Last year, Rams for Recovery held social barbecues, mental health fairs and educational training sessions. One recent training session involved handing out naloxone—an emergency treatment for opioid overdose—and educating students on its importance and administration.
We know recovery can seem scary, but students should know that we’re here to welcome and support them in their journey wherever they are. –Thomas Smith
“Putting that life-saving tool in people’s hands while breaking down the stigma of substance use disorders was really impactful,” Smith says.
When asked about Rams for Recovery’s success so far, Dr. Moh says, “We’ve seen what a valuable resource this program is already: Attendance for our events has gone above and beyond what we expected, with hundreds of students turning out almost monthly.”
The Future of Rams for Recovery
For the program’s next steps, Dr. Moh and Smith agree they’re focused on increasing the recognition of Rams for Recovery across Jefferson. They also hope to expand the program to students on the Center City campus.
“Our goal right now is to form a more consolidated identity for the program and work with other campus organizations to spread awareness,” Smith says. “We just want to get students in the door. We know recovery can seem scary, but students should know that we’re here to welcome and support them in their journey wherever they are.”