Collegiate Recovery 101
UW–Madison has resources to help students struggling with substance abuse — but advocates hope to do much more.
By the time incoming freshman Vanessa dellaBitta ’14 set foot on campus in 2006, she was already battling a drug and alcohol addiction. What’s worse, the vibrant, scholarly Massachusetts native suffered in secret, privately juggling the normal growing pains of college with the all-consuming effort to get and stay sober.
“I really struggled through my freshman year, not knowing that there were other people like me. I felt very, very alone,” says dellaBitta, who ended up dropping out at the start of her sophomore year so she could address her problem. For the next several years, she cycled in and out of both school and sobriety; for her, the two worlds seemed nearly impossible to reconcile.
“University environments are challenging places to be in recovery without support, and that’s the niche that collegiate recovery fills.”
“Over those five years, I’d take a couple classes and was out of school again,” she says. “It felt like this wasn’t a problem that other people had. It did sort of feel like — not immoral, but it felt like it centered in me. Like, I just can’t get myself together, essentially. I just can’t be responsible.”
Today dellaBitta knows she’s not inherently broken, and that she’s far from alone. Almost a quarter of college students nationwide meet the medical criteria for substance abuse or dependence, yet 37 percent of them fear seeking help because of social stigma, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). Students like dellaBitta aren’t the only ones who lose out; the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention says 40 percent of student-attrition cases involve substance abuse, resulting in $1.2 million to $4.3 million in lost tuition each year.
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