From “I love someone in recovery” pins to flyers about substance-free socials, members of peer group Cardinal Recovery are making a name for themselves on campus.
The program, which aims to support students in substance recovery, started in 2019, following recommendations from the law policy practicum “Assessing Alcohol Use Among Stanford Undergraduates” and the Stanford Alcohol Solutions Group. The collegiate recovery program hosts a variety of meetings and events throughout the year and is open to students, alumni and faculty.
Substance abuse disorders are especially prevalent on college campuses, according to experts: “Studies have shown that students living on campus in four-year colleges have higher rates of binge drinking than students of the same age who are living at home or enrolled in college but living at home,” said Anna Lembke M.D. ’95, program director of the Stanford’s Addiction Medicine Fellowship.
First-year students are most at risk for alcohol misuse, according to a 2020 Stanford Alcohol Solutions Group report, which surveyed students and analyzed alcohol policies of various universities. The report also states that Stanford frosh, in particular, consume alcohol at a 13% higher rate than the national average for students their year.
“Addiction happens on college campuses,” Lembke said. “We can’t turn a blind eye to that.”
Cardinal Recovery is an extension of the substance-free resources provided by Vaden Health on campus. Unlike the Well House, a substance-free dorm, Cardinal Recovery is open to all students, regardless of where they live.
Well House resident assistant and Cardinal Recovery participant Arnob Das ’22 helps plan many of the events for both groups.
Cardinal Recovery is unique in how it provides peer-to-peer support in a structured format.
“I continue to be surprised by how much overlap there is in terms of like thought patterns and thought processes across different types of experiences. I think that was really powerful once we started realizing that in groups,” Das said.
Collegiate Recovery Coordinator at the Office of Substance Use Programs Education and Resources (SUPER) Corey Lamb ’22 said the campus culture around alcohol and drugs can be “unhealthy.” He said Cardinal Recovery is “inclusive, regardless of where you are and there’s room to grow in terms of the types of meetings we can offer.”
“You can have fun, be around people in recovery, not have to be intoxicated all the time,” he said.
Cardinal Recovery meetings are student-led and take place five days a week at varying locations around campus, such as at EVGR and the Well House. Meeting topics range from general recovery to LGBTQ+-centered recovery and more.
Das said inclusivity and allowing people the space to grow is a big part of these meetings, hence the range of focuses.
The group also hosts a variety of events related to student wellbeing intended as alternatives to campus events with alcohol or other substances. So far, the program has hosted sober tailgates, hiking trips and board game nights, all centered around peer support groups, according to Lamb.
“A recent Cochrane report shows that Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step groups are as or more effective than professionally led treatment. Stanford is just really just embracing what’s been part of recovery from addiction for many years,” Lembke said.
This year, Cardinal Recovery is pushing a new “allyship” model, where the group connects with various departments and student organizations.
Lamb said that he hopes the model will help spread Cardinal Recovery’s mission of addressing unhealthy substance use on campus and reduce the stigma surrounding addiction recovery.
“There are students in these professional schools that want to get help for their problems, but they’re mortified to be labeled as a person in recovery. We’ve really got to push back against that,” Lamb said.
Looking towards the future, Lamb says the program hopes to obtain a clubhouse dedicated for students who are looking for an alcohol and substance free space. They are also hoping to start a speaker series featuring alumni who have recovered from substance abuse disorders.
“We hope that soon we’ll be a name among names in terms of collegiate recovery, but right now we’re just paving the way,” Lamb said. “We’re gonna be here for students.”