Initiatives to assist students in recovering from alcohol addiction are becoming increasingly common in universities throughout the country.

The Association of Recovery in Higher Education provides education, support and resources for college students with a history of alcohol abuse through Collegiate Recovery Programs on 135 college campuses. The goals of these programs are to provide support, prevent relapse and promote improved academic performance. Although there is no official Collegiate Recovery Program at Duke, Counseling and Psychological Services and Student Wellness Center provide options for students battling alcohol reliance.

“This is a significant issue everywhere,” said Jeff Kulley, associate director for clinical services at CAPS. “It’s significant at Duke because of they way drinking occurs among subgroups and how drinking with the purpose of intoxication is normalized.”

Students with alcohol dependencies represent a portion of the student population at Duke, said Dan Perry, alcohol and drug senior program coordinator at the Wellness Center.

“Looking at the national data, combined with my perspective, I would say that somewhere around 10 percent of Duke students will likely meet the criteria for a substance use disorder at some point in their lifetime, if not now,” he wrote in an email Monday.

Most college students that develop issues with alcohol began drinking younger than most of their peers, Kulley said, with many showing signs of alcohol abuse in high school. He said the problem of alcoholism usually takes four years or more to develop.

Students who come to CAPS worried about their dependency on alcohol would first meet with a staff therapist for an initial assessment, said Kulley. During this appointment, the therapist would address the students’ concerns and describe possible treatment options.

“We operate from a standpoint of identifying with students’ worries about consequences,” said Perry. “We work with them in terms of where they are and what their motivation to make changes is.”

Students with alcohol abuse issues could choose to receive support from the Wellness Center and local Alcoholics Anonymous communities.

The Wellness Center hosts two AA meetings a week, said Tom Szigethy, the associate dean and director of the Wellness Center.

Kulley, however, noted that students often prefer AA programs in Chapel Hill because they can get out of their home area and meet new people.

The Wellness Center also offers a program called BASICS, which can confidentially screen for potential Substance Abuse Disorders. In addition, the Center's website has short anonymous screens that can be used to determine a student’s dependency on alcohol.

In extreme cases, CAPS would refer students to the Child Development and Behavioral Health Clinic on campus, Kulley added.

“They are equipped to handle higher levels of severity,” he said. “This is ideal for students who need to engage in a program for a longer time period.”

Despite these resources, the nature of drinking in a college environment often exacerbates alcohol dependency among students, and poses challenges for recovery, Kulley said.

"It’s hard for students to believe ‘I need to stop drinking’ when they look around and see others drinking similarly,” he said. “It seems normal, just a college thing.”

Kulley added that most students continue to drink in college, and don’t take action to recover until they face truly negative consequences—like losing jobs or relationships.

The negative connotations surrounding alcohol dependency can make students afraid to seek help, Perry said. He also attributed some of the difficulties surrounding recovery to the misperception that drinking is central to college life.

“If you were a diabetic and could not eat sugar, how would you feel if you lived somewhere that had a cultural norm of making sugary food the center of social events?” Perry said.

Exposure to alcohol at Duke is especially high because of the high percentage of students who live on campus, the prevalence of social events centered around Greek life and the popularity of sports, Kulley said.

"Duke definitely has a party culture where it's cool to binge, but I don't see Duke as being special," sophomore Chris Hong said.

In state universities that have fewer people living on campus, students don’t have the same level of exposure to alcohol, Kulley said. These institutions also often impose stiffer penalties because of the need to comply with state laws.

To alleviate these challenges to recovery, Kulley recommended that students get involved with alternative social scenes and join recovery communities, noting that it is nearly impossible to fix a problem while remaining in the same circumstances where the problem developed.

“It reminds me of a saying: if you hang out in a barbershop, eventually you’re going to get your hair cut,” he said.

Some students on campus use alcohol as a means of unhealthy stress relief, said sophomore Rachel Beck.

"I've heard people say things like, 'I need to get smashed. I've had such a hard week at school.' I hear people talking about alcohol multiple times a day," Beck said.

Responding to Beck's comment, sophomore Zarah Udwadia said using alcohol after a hard week is common among all universities.

"I don't think that it's unique to Duke though," she said.

Perry emphasized that challenges could also be lessened by bringing forth a campus wide understanding of the true nature of alcoholism and finding compassion for those with this issue.

"[This would] alleviate fear and the need for secrecy, which I think, will lead to young people in recovery feeling more included in the Duke community," Perry said.

Even though alcohol addiction is an issue, the majority of students at Duke do not suffer from addiction issues.

“We’re talking about a minority slice of the pie,” said Kulley. “It’s a bigger slice of the pie than we would want it to be, but it’s definitely not the norm.”