Pin It

Texas Tech’s Recovery Program

An escape from Animal House, Texas Tech’s innovative recovery program tackles collegiate alcohol and drug abuse.

There are 50,000 college-eligible kids in America today who are too strung out on alcohol or other drugs to get in let alone make the grade.
Unfortunately, the way things are now, it may be just as well. If some of these kids want to sober up, college is the last place they should go. Colleges and universities actually breed substance abuse. Think animal house.

{youtube}ouyydUdp-Zs{/youtube}The fact is, today about one out of three students in the United States abuses alcohol. All told a million students in 4,000 colleges are actually alcohol dependent.
It’s enough to give a parent pause. If my child has avoided alcohol and other drugs, do I want to send him to a college where he can learn to drink? Or if my child has struggled with addiction should I send him into an environment that will make it worse?

Fortunately, change is in the air, and there is a better option. A major university — Texas Tech in Lubbock — has a heartwarming success story, which it has begun to replicate on other campuses, that could ultimately help transform some of our 4,000 colleges and universities from “party cultures” to “learning cultures.”

Party cultures are nothing new, and there have been numerous crackdowns at various institutions over the years directed mainly at fraternities and sororities. Some may have succeeded but few have truly addressed the root cause — addiction.

Several years ago, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) convened a daylong conference in New York bringing badly needed focus on drug abuse on college campuses. The title of the conference was “How to stop wasting the best and the brightest: substance abuse at America’s colleges and universities.”

High society

Joseph A. Califano Jr., CASA’s chairman and the author of the best selling book, “High Society,” has been a leader in addressing the high cost of substance abuse in America — a trillion dollar a year problem — and he has taken a special interest in addiction in adolescents and young adults.

After two morning sessions, one on “Getting the High out of Higher Education” which was directed at college presidents, trustees and alumni and the second on, “Parent Power The Role of Parents,” Lesley Stahl, co-editor of 60 Minutes and a member of the CBS News staff, took the podium to talk about “Substance abuse Among American College Students.”

Among Stahl’s five panel members was 22-year-old Anna Thomas, a vivacious 2008 graduate of Texas Tech University and a person in recovery. She was on staff at the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery (CSAR) at Texas Tech.

The Center presently serves about 80 students who are in recovery and enrolled in its Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) program. Most of these students live off the Texas Tech campus, avoiding the typical college dorm life that consistently tolerates drug and alcohol use.

Students participating in the program spend most of their on-campus free time in the recovery-based environment provided by the Center where they have access to 12-Step meetings, a computer lab, a den area with a big-screen television, and a recreation room complete with ping-pong, pool, and foosball.

Although students use the Center for a safe haven between classes, they attend classes with the general college population, seeking various degrees, such as liberal arts, engineering, and business.

Some of the Center’s students seek a 4-year degree in Community, family, and addiction services and others attain an interdisciplinary Minor in addictive disorders and recovery studies, making them eligible to become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor.

The Center takes applications from those who have at least six months of sobriety as well as those already attending Texas Tech who find themselves in trouble and are looking for a place to recover with those of like mind.

No isolation

Dr. Kitty S. Harris, director of the Center, emphasizes that she intends to protect her students, but she doesn’t want them isolated.
“I want our students to have a true college experience. I don’t want them to feel separate. I don’t want them to feel apart from. I don’t want them to feel different. And I especially don’t want them to drink or do drugs.”

Dr. Harris has been on the faculty at Texas Tech for more than 20 years and has had significant clinical experience in adult, adolescent and family therapy. Over the years, she has been the recipient of many awards, including the “Counselor of the Year” award from the Texas Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors.

But what most impresses about Dr. Harris is her quiet competence, her heart for adolescents and young adults and her spiritual focus.

“I love adolescents because they’re responsive,” Dr. Harris says. “They have these horrible chips on their shoulders, and they act like they hate the world, but if you can break through that wall, they’re just so vulnerable. They have so much to give, if you value them. If you work with adolescents and value them, it teaches you unconditional love, the ability to look beyond what the outside looks like.

”Very truthfully,” she says, “My position at the Center is very much a spiritual calling. I really believe that this is what I was supposed to do next.”

On a day in late February I flew to Lubbock, a community of 200,000, for a visit with Dr. Harris, her staff and her students.

I spent the first hour of my visit with Dr. Harris and Associate Director Mandy Baker and then they turned me over to my hostesses for the day, staff members Anna Thomas, the CASA panelist, and Administrative Business Assistant Ann Casiraghi.

Anna, who broke her foot snowboarding at Red River in New Mexico had been outfitted with a special set of wheels for her foot and led my tour of the basement of the Center. The basement is where students gather to play games, pray and meditate and play music.

Other stops included visits with staff members, Matt Russell, who was responsible for replicating the Texas Tech model on other campuses, Stephanie Rushing, who was doing groundbreaking work in the field of eating disorders and Dr. Sara Smock who was in research focusing on learning more about recovery and what helps people succeed.

Part of succeeding, Dr. Smock said, goes back to the importance of relationships in recovery. “Social support,” she says, “is the piece that explains why people are successful.”

With regard to eating disorders, Dr. Harris said, “What we have found oftentimes is that the 12-step model of AA works very well with people who are struggling with eating disorders. The steps help them get into a position where they can recover and learn to feed and nurture their bodies in healthy ways.”

In terms of replication, at last count more than 50  colleges and universities have adopted the Texas Tech model and the University is in conversations with many more.


One evening several years ago, I went to a “Celebration of Recovery” meeting at the Center which was attended by staff, students and townspeople in recovery. It was the last event in a day full of interviews with staff members and students.

Here are some key facts about the Center and the Collegiate Recovery Community program at that time:

  • Over 500 recovering students had graduated from TTU with the aid of CRC. Fewer than 7 percent of these students had relapsed while participating in the program.
  • The CRC had enrolled students from over 20 states and three foreign countries. There were 80 recovering students enrolled from 11 states, many from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
  • CRC students maintained a collective GPA of 3.34 which is higher than TTU’s overall GPA. Many of these students were pursuing graduate and professional school placements and competing for prestigious internships throughout the country.
  • CRC offered course credit and research opportunities in addiction and recovery studies to all students and faculty at TTU.
  • CRC hosted over 20 recovery support group meetings a week on the TTU campus that are open to recovering students, faculty, staff and members of the local community. These include Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Co-dependents Anonymous meetings. CRC had also helped start support groups for those struggling with gambling and eating disorders.

The students we passed in the halls or chatting in the foyer near the entrance were cheerful, a little shy and respectful — apparent were some tattoos, piercings and a little gothic here and there.

At my meeting with recovering students Logan, Matt, Brooke and Laura and staff members Anna Thomas and Jake Wood, I first gave them a brief account of my own recovery, and then we went around the table, and they gave theirs.

Most began experimenting with alcohol and hard drugs when they were little more than children. Near the end, they had given up all hope. They didn’t know if they would live to be twenty or twenty-five let alone attend a major university.

I didn’t take notes during our session, for purposes of anonymity, but the quotes below from other students which appear in CRC literature give a feel for it:

  • “When I was addicted,” Brian said, “pretty much my whole life revolved around getting and using drugs. I didn’t have a goal. Now I have ambition, my life has momentum, and I have things to look forward to.”
  • “Now I have a lot of different goals,” Alana said. “I want to be a doctor, a mother. I want to be a good sister, a good daughter, a friend. I have gained more happiness and contentment in everything I do.”
  • “My life was like a tree that was wilted and dead,” Sara said. “Since I’ve been in recovery, the tree has been nourished, and it’s growing. I’m happier and a lot brighter. My life has totally changed.”

Sometimes lost in the discussion of addiction is the impact on loved ones.

Losing a son

Annette K., a member of the addiction center’s advisory board at the time, lost her son, Rich, to addiction. She wrote, “I’ve seen recovery from drugs and alcohol make total changes in people. I believe in the healing this program offers. The Center provides an opportunity for me to interact with students and people in recovery and keeps a part of my son alive. I know that this program’s successes would mean everything to him…”

Annette’s son, Rich, is one of many tragic statistics that include the following:

  • 1,400 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries.
  • 70,000 alcohol-related sexual assaults occur each year among college students.
  • 600,000 college students per year are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • 400,000 college students report having unprotected sex while intoxicated, and
  • 100,000 college students report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.

Dr. Harris believes that Americans are heavily into feeling good, the quick fix and immediate gratification. “One idea I’ve always believed in is that the reason we have a problem with alcohol and drugs is because the substances work.

“For the kids at the Center the substance did meet a need. It was exciting, or it made them feel not so bad, or it made mom and dad’s divorce not seem so tragic or it made that last breakup with that girl not so overwhelming.

“ These kids get into substance abuse, and the sad part is that because they are so young, and they have such poor judgment, they’re sucked in and sucked under before they realize it.”

Dr. Harris continued, “The most satisfying part of the Center to me is that we love these students. We help them re-socialize. We re-parent them if they’ve lacked family support. We try to give them an unconditional, loving environment in which to grow and flourish.

“We are able to return these individuals to the community, to the society they hid from during their active dependency and addiction and allow them to come back to those places where they can become who they are.”

The key to the U.S. drug problem — reducing demand

Jorge Tello, advisor to Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon on the drug war, has said that the supply of narcotics could never be completely eliminated and that the key was in drying up demand.

“It’s like a rat control problem,” Tello said. “The rats are always down there in the sewers. You can’t really get rid of them. But what you don’t want are rats at people’s front doors.”

The rats will always be there, he said, because of the demand for drugs. And “demand in the U.S., of course, is the motor for the drug trade,” he concluded (Wall Street Journal Feb. 21, 2009)

A few hundred miles north of the Mexican border is Texas Tech. Its addiction center promotes recovery in a particularly vulnerable population—our children, and it’s a great example of drying up demand. It should be celebrated.