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Monday, December 11, 2023

Few addiction resources accessible to students on UW-Madison campus

You are in third grade at your elementary school assembly, and you are handed a Red Ribbon pencil reading, “Don’t do drugs.” 

As children, drugs are introduced as a concept for grown ups, and many do not understand the true danger or nature of them. As children grow up, more and more illegal substances are introduced as a “norm” in their lives — especially when they become teenagers. At your first high school party freshman year, you see White Claws lining a table. The older juniors outside are smoking marijuana, and you do not see the harm in trying some. What, can just a little hurt?

No one starts using a drug with the intent of becoming addicted. When first consuming a substance, our brain’s reward system is stimulated. The brain’s neurological senses treat the substance as a reward, meaning it starts to crave it. Drugs are loaded with chemicals that change the brain’s functions and performance, leaving long-term impacts on people’s bodies. 

Addiction in college students is incredibly worrisome to many statisticians. Recent studies found approximately one third of college students nationwide have an addiction to an illegal substance, whether it be alcohol, marijuana or nicotine — to name a few. 

As the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a student body of over 45,000, it is vital to address how UW students can access help on or off campus. However, UW does not offer a sufficient number of resources — more importantly, in-person resources. This is an issue because students who realized that they should be seeking help might not find a resource that works for them because of the scarcity of services. More outreach from the university and campus resources could benefit these students because they will be more inclined to reflect on their current substance use habits. There are some students who do not know that they need help at all, unable to take a self-reflexive view on themselves. 

UW-Madison’s addiction resources

UW-Madison first directs students to University Health Services’ (UHS) substance abuse programs. The institution takes preventative and remedial measures to aid their students in recovery. Students addicted to nicotine are able to access help free of cost through UHS, where they can receive guidance for quitting their addiction. For alcohol and marijuana, students can take online assessments to gain a better understanding of their addiction. They are then guided through an eCheckup to put their use into perspective. For some, online services can be difficult and frustrating for students starting recovery because there is limited personalization for each students’ case.  

Recently, there has been an alarming rise in deaths by fentanyl in drugs. People often get access to drugs laced with fentanyl when using unprescribed substances, meaning the drugs could have been tampered with. On the UHS Prevention website, a startling statistic notes, “[i]n Wisconsin, more residents died from a drug overdose than from motor vehicle accidents, suicide, or firearms.” 

Opioid overdoses, many including fentanyl, are extremely fatal, but there are ways to help someone who is suffering from one. One measure the university offers is the naloxone box for students, which allows a witness to inject Narcan spray into the nose to prevent an overdose. 

Students are informed of these boxes while they complete their freshman orientation or SOAR program. However, some students are still unaware of their placement in residence and dining halls. This resource is important to be aware of in case an overdose occurs and you are in need of naloxone to reverse the opioids — and potentially save someone’s life.

The Badger Recovery program is one of the few in person resources on campus. This program encourages students to seek peer support in groups. It stresses that there is no one right way to go through recovery. The Badger Recovery meeting structure has a lighter atmosphere than the typical Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, as they encourage open conversations between peers. Employees of Badger Recovery say the program’s method is often seen as a unique path to recovery. 

Jocelyn Weiss, a Badger Recovery student employee and UW-Madison senior, explained the motives of their program.

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“People who go to Badger Recovery are undiagnosed — they feel like they are having their own problems. They do not have to have a diagnosis, and the goal of our program is not to diagnose others with disorders,” she said.

Weiss, as well as Heather Rose — a sophomore and another Badger Recovery student employee — noted alcohol, marijuana and nicotine misuse and overuse as prevalent among students who attend Badger Recovery meetings. 

Alcohol is the drug most students come in contact with on campus, as UW has a large drinking climate. Generally, a greater number of juniors and seniors attend the meetings to talk about substance misuse with the occasional freshmen and sophomores. They are also open to graduate students and other members of the Madison community. Badger Recovery provides a space for individuals to connect with peers who are going through similar experiences.

“Badger Recovery is typically the first step in identifying a problem with their substance use. Being a peer group, students feel that the program is approachable and acts as a light-minded way to talk about struggles,” said Weiss.  

Rose agreed, adding that Badger Recovery acts as additional support in individuals’ personal recovery journeys. 

“We have to remind ourselves that we are young and that recovery is a process that can lead to success for the rest of our lives,” Rose said. 

Both Weiss and Rose emphasized the stigmatization of recovery, especially at a very alcohol-prevelant college like UW-Madison. Many students could likely benefit from Badger Recovery services, but it is sometimes seen as socially unacceptable to seek help, Rose said. Rather, a large population could benefit from these services but feel a sense of denial or embarrassment that stands in the way of getting the help they need. 

UW-Madison has a lack of assistance for students to go to if they want to recover. Students may feel unsupported while trying to better themselves. 

The university offers a plethora of impersonal, online help that has students take a quiz or read facts to assess where they are in their state of recovery. The ideal addiction recovery program includes therapy, support and education. It seems as though not one UW addiction service contains all three. 

Students still have programs like Badger Recovery, which allows people to process their own history with substances while beginning their recovery process. UW-Madison could make improvements to their recovery programs and addiction resources to better help their students, creating a more accepting environment around recovery as a whole.

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