ARC Supports Students Struggling with Addiction

Auraria Recovery Community helps students grow 

ARC aims to help students touched by addiction and substance misuse through fostering connections.
Photo Courtesy of the Auraria Recovery Community

According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 19.7 million Americans struggle with addiction. In Denver alone, over 400,000 people reported having a substance abuse disorder in 2012. For those on the Auraria campus affected by substance misuse, the Auraria Recovery Community offers key resources, a safe space, and friendship.

In 2018, founder and current director of ARC, Owen Berg, joined forces with another student and two on-campus mental health professionals after seeing a need for a recovery community on campus. The team held focus groups to gauge interest and necessity. ARC was born, founded by three guiding principles decided upon by the group: community, inclusivity, and fun. While the founders of ARC were specifically affiliated with CU Denver, the group decided to cater to all three universities on campus. Since then, the organization has continued to grow.  

ARC’s recovery approach is generalized to include all students impacted by substance misuse or other addictions, employing a very broad definition of recovery itself. “It’s not just about drugs and alcohol for us. It’s about a lifestyle, and it’s about people wanting to heal and wanting to improve their life. And if someone wants to heal and improve their life, then I can almost guarantee they’ll fit in with ARC, whatever their background or their struggles are,” said Berg.  

ARC is a collegiate recovery program, or CRP. CRPs, supported by the Association for Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE), are present on only 130 college campuses across the country, including the Auraria campus. CRPs like the Auraria Recovery Community don’t necessarily follow specific guidelines with regard to recovery, unlike other, more structured programs like 12-step or refuge recovery. Rather, collegiate recovery programs like ARC serve the sole purpose of supporting students and providing a sense of community.  

CU Denver junior Austin Plagge joined ARC in 2018 when he entered school and has since risen to become the CU Denver chapter president. “I was really nervous to integrate back into a society which I’d never been a part of, never felt a part of. I saw a flier about ARC on campus and all the recovery meetings, and I just started going, just from a flier,” said Plagge. “It’s turning into something so much bigger, and so much more beautiful than it already was in the first place.” 

When the pandemic hit, ARC immediately switched to Zoom meetings, hoping to continue to foster a sense of community in a new, socially-distanced world. “There’s a focus in recovery of focusing on what I can control and acknowledging the things I can’t control. Acknowledging my powerlessness but also taking accountability for what I am accountable for,” said Berg. “We really focused on controlling what we could, and we were able to reframe it as an opportunity for growth and an opportunity to spend more time with ourselves.”  

The COVID crisis, however, still presents unique challenges for those in recovery. Those in long-term care may experience a disruption of care due to healthcare facilities being overwhelmed. Those relying on in-person communities may find themselves without face-to-face connection. According to a market study performed by the data company Nielsen, alcohol sales were up almost 25% in June, in comparison to the same time last year, as those in isolation sought a way to cope with the stresses of a global health crisis.  

For Plagge, the COVID-19 crisis has been challenging. “Part of my addiction is like, it wants to get me by myself and alone, and make me feel like I don’t have community, into that victim state. With COVID, I’m sure everybody’s experienced being in that space of being lonely, being isolated. It’s very dangerous for the overall recovery community, not specifically ARC but just recovery communities in general,” said Plagge.  

Addiction and substance misuse also disproportionately impact already- marginalized groups. For example, data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 37.5% of LGBTQ+ adults struggle with substance misuse, as compared to only 16.2% reported by the general population. Substance misuse is also more likely to affect veterans, particularly alcohol abuse. Nearly half of those with existing mental health problems will experience substance misuse, leading to comorbidities between the two.  

“People with addiction have been defined as a disabled, underserved, underprivileged group. And also unfortunately a lot of people who also belong to other underserved, underprivileged groups are also hit harder by addiction,” said Berg. “So this also helps out other groups, and this is a point of intersection between people that are maybe not in majority groups and that also may be struggling with other socioeconomic factors or maybe just other mental health issues. Really, it’s a way to help multiple communities, and not just one.” 

While addiction can have greatly detrimental effects for individuals and their communities, Berg stressed how recovery can have just as much impact, if not more. “The collateral damage from somebody that’s addicted is just astronomical. That being said, the collateral healing that can come from someone in recovery is also just huge. To see someone have the lights turn on in front of your eyes, and to have someone heal and connect with themselves… is just absolutely beautiful. It’s really hard to quantify.” 

Right now, ARC is funded through a grant, but they’re hoping to access institutional funds soon. Next year, the student fee committees at each school are likely to vote on adding a student fee directly for ARC. Through student fees and institutional funding, ARC hopes to continue its mission of helping those in recovery find community and strength well into the future. They’ve also begun to offer ally training this semester, which hopes to help the greater campus community learn about addiction, recovery, and the resources available on campus for those who may be struggling.  

One of ARC’s main goals is eliminating the stigma attached to substance misuse, especially through programs like their ally training. “Part of what we’re trying to do here is remove the stigma attached to somebody who has substance use problems, or has a history of it, because it’s definitely very harmful. By doing that, it will help remove some barriers for people who want to usually seek recovery or get well,” said Plagge.  

Currently, ARC meets every Monday and Thursday on Zoom from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Other events can be found on their website and through their newsletter. While their next ally training has yet to be scheduled, faculty, staff, and students are encouraged to check back with ARC to find out the next date.  

People impacted by addiction don’t have to go at it alone on the Auraria campus. The resources and community provided by ARC are available to all students, from all campuses, and from all walks of life. “If you’re struggling, or you think someone else is struggling, send ‘em our way,” said Berg.

This is a selection from the Sept. 23 issue. To view the full issue, visit:

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