This FOCUS professor takes “learning outside the classroom” to a whole new level.

Amir Rezvani, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and associate director of the addiction division in the department, challenged his students to give up an addiction for two months for his “Addiction: Brain, Individual and Society” class. The students—who were in the Modeling in Economic and Social Sciences FOCUS—wrote about their experiences in journals and shared them in class. 

“I have so much more respect for recovering addicts now than I ever did beforehand because when you are trying to recover and stay away from substances—especially substances like alcohol that are heavily present—it takes a lot of willpower,” said first-year Mary Helen Wood, who gave up sugar for the project. “But, it's not only that. It takes a lot of support from other people.”

For many students, support from friends and family was key. Some even found their friends helping to keep them accountable when they were about to slip up. For this reason, Wood, who is also a photographer for The Chronicle, told many of her friends—even though Rezvani only required the students to tell two people.

Some students, including first-year Bernardo Martinez, decided to give up one or multiple social media platforms. Martinez decided not to use Instagram for the two months, and he noted that it was hard to do the assignment especially during the first few months of college when students develop new friendships and interact on social media platforms.

“Social media is part of our social experience now. If you take away all social media, you become isolated,” he said. “This was the first two months of school. If you don't have social media, if you're not on Snapchat or Instagram, you're really missing out on a lot social aspects of college.”

Martinez added that he relapsed a few times. Many of the students expressed that they felt very guilty about relapsing. The fear of relapsing even entered Wood's dreams. In one of her dreams, she was at a gathering with a table of sweets.

“I was really tempted to pick one up. I turned and I looked over. Professor Rezvani was looking straight at me. So I knew I couldn't touch it because I knew he would be disappointed,” Wood said. “Rezvani was symbolic of the guilt that you feel. You know you should be doing better, but there's only so much you can do when you have a craving like that."

Stress was a major factor for those who relapsed in real life. One of the times Wood relapsed was when she was extremely stressed with schoolwork and other obligations, so she succumbed to the temptation when her friend offered her sugary banana bread. 

Another student, first-year Tsephanyah Wang who gave up coffee, relapsed at a time when he had multiple midterms. His friend offered it to him, saying that he really needed it to get through the stress. 

But, the guilt of Wang’s actions got to him.

“After I relapsed, I felt so bad,” he said. “I spent an hour just thinking about what I did.”

Others relapsed more easily. First-year Armon Ghodoussi gave up pizza—something he described as a “solid rock in my sea of change.” He said that he relapsed five or six times during the two months, not due to stress, but just because he wanted pizza. The relapse was easy for Ghodoussi because of pizza being served at Marketplace everyday. 

At some point during the class discussion, Rezvani light-heartedly asked his students, “Be honest, how many of you guys hated me?”

Although many of them expressed frustration with the project, they were glad they did it and would recommend others giving up an addiction or habit for two months. The students were graded on journal entries they had to write during the two months and participation during class discussion, but not on whether they relapsed.

“You develop a sense of respect for drug addicts who are going through the process,” Rezvani said when describing the merit of the project.

In addition to the project, the students also visited TROSA, a long-term, residential substance abuse recovery program in Durham. There, they heard the experiences of the residents to learn how addiction can develop.

Rezvani said that the slogan for the class was “more hugs, less drugs.”