An article from the Chicago Tribue recently shared the story of drug addicts coming clean and attending college. The battle they face they don't face alone. Read portions of the article to see how this college community supported each other.
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Portions of the article are listed below:
Mark Spicer started smoking marijuana eight years ago when he was a sophomore at New Trier High School. By senior year, the dabbling had turned into a daily habit; at his small, liberal arts college, he added painkillers to the list. Despite multiple attempts at rehab, it took just a few weeks before he'd return to his hard-partying ways.
"About the only thing to do is go to frat parties, otherwise you don't have much of a social life … and alcohol and drugs are everywhere," said Spicer, 23, of Glencoe.
Now, the philosophy/environmental studies major is back in school, maintaining a 3.8 grade-point average and his sobriety. He's at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, a choice made not only for the academics but for its vibrant recovery community of 83 peers, all fighting the same battle.
Across the U.S., universities are paying closer attention to students like Spicer. Almost two dozen schools now have comprehensive recovery programs for those battling addictions.
Senior Mark Spicer, 23, of Glencoe, plays his guitar in a drug-free dorm at Augsburg College in Minneapolis this month. (Courtney Perry, Photo for the Chicago Tribune / October 17, 2011)
"This is their choice … and a lot of students are here on their own dime," said the program's director, Patrice Salmeri. "They found out what it's like to sit in jail, to be homeless, to be cut off by their parents. Some say they shouldn't even be alive right now … but they come here and they're ready."
For Spicer, it's hard to believe he's the same student who spiraled downward, stealing from his roommates for Vicodin, Xanax and Oxycontin, which he called "my first true love." He left Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., found Augsburg, got kicked out of StepUP, but remained in Minneapolis.
"One day, I just woke up and I was really sick with a sinus infection, from snorting all these pills … and I just had enough," Spicer said. "I went back to my friends at StepUP … and I credit these three guys with saving my life."
After six months of abstinence — a program requirement — Spicer re-enrolled. Now he's a resident assistant, on track to graduate in June. But his proudest accomplishment is 21 months of sobriety, which he calls "a gift."
Augsburg is also where everything clicked for Emily, a graduate of Oak Park-River Forest High School, who lasted only three semesters at Loyola University. Now a junior, she also attributes her achievement to a caring staff and forging strong bonds with those who share a similar history.
"We all go together to clubs, to concerts, dancing … we just don't drink. When I was in Chicago, I'd be the only one not drinking and I felt weird," she said.
"A few years ago, if anyone told me that I'd be going to college and getting good grades, I'd never believe them," said the psychology major, who asked that her last name not be used.
The same goes for Ezra Kaplan, who started drinking at Glenbrook North High School. After graduating in 2006, he attended Kalamazoo College, dropping out midway through his sophomore year.
"The life I was living wasn't conducive to academics," said Kaplan, 23. "My parents knew I was lying to them, drinking and smoking a lot more pot than I was saying."
Kaplan moved back to Northbrook in 2008, went to wilderness therapy and eventually checked into treatment in Prescott, Ariz. After discharge, he stayed in the small, central Arizona town, a hub for recovering addicts with more than 200 Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week.
Kaplan exited rehab and moved into transitional housing, where his roommates were part of Treehouse Learning Community, a private program that requires all students to be pursuing a degree. He now works for Treehouse while at Prescott College, where he is studying to be a chemistry teacher.
"At the end of the day, I came home to a sober environment instead of a drinking one," he said. "And I could see how it made all the difference."