A Sober Higher Education?


An article by Claire Altschuler in the Chicago Tribune “Colleges using sober dorms to combat alcohol, drug addiction” describes measures being taken by some institutions of higher education to help students become less high.

Over 20 million young Americans started college this fall. For most of them, the next few years will be a time of intellectual challenges, new friendships and career exploration. But for many, those years will also include a lot of partying and exposure to an abundance of alcohol and drugs.

According to a 2016 report by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1.2 million full-time college students drink alcohol, and more than 700,000 use marijuana on an average day. Binge drinking is common. More than a third of surveyed students reported binge drinking (taking five or more drinks in quick succession), according to a 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Most students learn to navigate the college party circuit without much damage. But for those who arrive at school already struggling with substance abuse, easy access to drugs and alcohol poses a real danger. For them, living on a campus where partying is common and alcohol and drugs are readily available can be daunting.


As many as 30 percent of college students are battling substance-use disorders, says Lisa Laitman, director of the Alcohol & Other Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) at Rutgers University in New Jersey. ”That’s a lot of students who need help,” she says.

To meet this need, schools are developing “collegiate recovery programs” (CRPs) that help students stay sober and remain in college. Programs typically include mental health and substance abuse counseling, addiction support group meetings, peer-to-peer support, and a wide variety of substance-free programs and social activities that help students bond and sustain their sobriety in the “abstinence-hostile environment” of college campuses. Several programs also provide special on-campus housing, giving students a safe place to live where no drugs or alcohol are allowed and where residents support one another.

The University of Alabama has such a program.

The Collegiate Recovery & Intervention Services Department offers a Collegiate Recovery Community for students who have made a commitment to lead sober, healthy lives. Modeled after a successful program at Texas Tech University, The University of Alabama has created a structured, healthy community where recovering students can thrive academically and socially while actively pursuing their recovery. The Collegiate Recovery Community provides students an opportunity to bond together in an alcohol and drug free environment.

But as an institution that includes a large Greek community, the University has unique problems.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has described what a “perfect storm” in terms of campus alcohol abuse would be:

Factors related to specific college environments also are significant. Students attending schools with strong Greek systems and with prominent athletic programs tend to drink more than students at other types of schools. In terms of living arrangements, alcohol consumption is highest among students living in fraternities and sororities and lowest among commuting students who live with their families.


Promoting a safer and healthier academic experience at the University of Alabama and in Tuscaloosa should be a prime objective for community leaders.

“Temperance” seems to be an antiquated concept these days. But it should be remembered that the Temperance Movement was led by yesterday’s liberated women.

Tara Isabella Burton’s essay “The Feminist History of Prohibition” gave credit to the Temperance Movement for the radicalization of Susan B Anthony:

One of the major groups behind the temperance movement, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, was “long ignored or ridiculed as a fossil of prohibition.” But recent scholarship has come to appreciate the more progressive—even feminist—side of temperance work. Scholars like Ruth Bordin recognize that the temperance movement—whose goals included improving the lives of women whose drunken husbands were driven to abuse—as “the foremost example of American feminism.”

Indeed, many women’s rights activists came to the movement through participation in the temperance crusade (among them Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton). 

In Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama both violence and sexual assaults are inextricably tied to alcohol abuse. A bar culture exists in which under-aged drinkers often binge drink. The University’s alcohol policy recognizes the problems associated with under aged drinking. Sexual misconduct has also been addressed by the University.

Ogden Nash wrote, “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker” based on the idea that a person can use alcohol to convince someone to do something that they might not do if they were sober.

If co-eds at the University ever decide that “having fun” doesn’t mean getting wasted, then the spirit of early feminists might be revived. They might find it a lot easier to turn down the amorous advances of their inebriated dates.

Sexual predators in Tuscaloosa might then realize that pursuing women as if they were going after hunting trophies is no longer going to be possible.

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