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Fall 2011

It Takes a community CSAR at Texas Tech

by Sally Logue Post

CSAR gameroom

CSAR is a collegiate recovery community that provides a nurturing, affirming environment in which individuals recovering from addictive disorders can find peer support while receiving a college education.

Addiction Center Inspires Students to Stay Sober, Succeed

How does one stay clean and sober on a college campus when temptation is seemingly everywhere? National studies show that 44 percent of full-time college students report binge drinking and another 20 percent report using drugs.

“Sending a child to college can be a scary proposition for any parent, but when they’ve already had a turbulent adolescence from substance abuse, I’m not sure I could do it without knowing there is support in place,” said Kitty Harris, director of Texas Tech University’s Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery (CSAR).

It is a support system that universities across the country are asking about and the White House is praising as a model. CSAR is a community with a proven track record of taking young men and women in recovery and giving them the opportunity – and the tools – to succeed in college.

The 2011 National Drug Control Strategy cited CSAR as the model for collegiate recovery programs. “Typically the federal drug control policy focused on addiction, crime and punishment,” said Harris. “I’m pleased they’ve now added recovery to the annual report and excited they cited our program as the example for collegiate recovery.”

Why does the CSAR program work? It’s a question Harris has a passionate answer for. “We build a sense of community,” said Harris. “Our students are at a point developmentally where they need to belong. We give them that.”

A Sense of Belonging

“Community” is a word you hear repeatedly from those involved in CSAR. It’s more than just a set of courses and 12 step programs. Harris explains that for students, the center is a source of support and affirmation of their choice to live a healthy lifestyle. The center offers friendships, activities and a place to belong.

“In a sense, we provide reverse peer pressure to stay clean and sober,” she said. “There is so much pressure to drink or do drugs. Here there is pressure not to do those things. At its core we have developed this peer group that provides a sense of belonging of living a healthy life style.”

Texas Tech students Sarah Nerad, a senior, and Collin Speciale, a junior, are in the CSAR program. Both echo Harris’ thoughts on why the program works, but Nerad delves a little deeper.

CSAR game room

Along with academic services, CSAR provides peer-based and 12-step support for more than 80 students in recovery.


“I came here from Houston and didn’t know anyone,” said Nerad. “Normally moving to a strange city is really scary, but because I had the center, I knew I had a family of people just like me. I knew Colin’s story before I really even know him because he’s just like me and vice versa. We get each other. We have this huge thing in common, this automatic connection. And that takes away the fear.”

Both Nerad and Speciale are going on to graduate school. Nerad has a top five list of graduate schools that includes Brown University and Georgetown. Her goal is to work on public policy related to substance abuse.

“I came to Texas Tech thinking I’d go to graduate school in one area, but after being exposed to the center, I’ve totally changed my focus,” she said.

Speciale is set for graduate school with a master’s in social work as the goal. He’ll attend the University of Alabama where he will help to create a similar program there.

“They have, in a sense, offered me the opportunity to earn a degree to help them create what we have here,” he said.

It’s only fitting that Speciale will help build a similar collegiate recovery community. He came to Texas Tech because his Acoholics Anonymous sponsor in Kerrville had been part of the CSAR community.

CSAR is committed to achieving six primary goals:

  • Quality, long-term recovery for the student population through the creation of a Collegiate Recovery Community.
  • Development of resiliency in recovering students who often lack the personal, social, academic and professional skills necessary to be successful.
  • Education about the disease of addiction and effective strategies for the prevention and treatment of its consequences.
  • Service within the university, local, state and national communities.
  • Creation of an effective replication model that will allow other institutions of higher education to offer similar programs to positively impact their recovering students.
  • Research that impacts the way addiction is viewed from an individual, familial and social perspective, and which will improve treatment success nationwide.

Leading the Way

It’s not unusual for a university to seek Harris out to learn her formula for success. Twelve universities have replicated the program, six more are in the works and four universities have visited Texas Tech during the fall 2011 semester to talk about instituting a similar program on their campus. About five years ago, Harris and her team created a curriculum that can be incorporated into both two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Following the citation by the White House Office of National Drug Control Strategy and a spate of national publicity, including interviews in The Wall Street Journal and on NBC’s “Today” show, the floodgates are opening. Harris says she’s fielding dozens of calls from schools across the country asking how they can create something similar to Texas Tech’s program.

She believes the recent publicity about the center is helping people understand why programs like Texas Tech’s are vital. Harris feels there is still a stigma about substance abuse, and her anger is obvious when she talks about people asking why they would want “those” kids on “their” campus.

“Why would you not,” Harris said. “These young people have conquered their addictions. They have turned their lives around. They’ve been to hell and back. They have character and integrity to commit to be productive, successful individuals. Why in the world wouldn’t you want those kids at your university?

“At least now with our recent national publicity, people are beginning to get it,” she added. “We invest in human capital. We take these kids and give them a second chance. I’ve written a letter for a former student to Harvard’s MBA program. One of our graduates is in her second year at Duke medical school. These young men and women have the opportunity to go on and do whatever it is that they dream they can do.”

Meet the Researcher

Kitty Harris is director of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech University. Harris was chosen as a 2009 Integrated Scholar by the Office of the Provost.

Video produced by Scott Irlbeck, Office of Communications & Marketing.

Recovery Research

Harris and her team have used their success replicating the collegiate recovery program as a research opportunity. The field of recovery-based research is young and scientific information about the impact and influence of recovery from addiction on college students is scarce. CSAR again is at the forefront, setting up the National Recovering Student Database to determine the effectiveness of collegiate recovery programs. Harris also hopes the program will allow researchers to gain valuable information about the process of recovery in young adults in an attempt see how collegiate recovery programs and treatment could be made more effective.

Harris has worked in the addiction recovery field for 30 years, and one truth she knows is that the age of initial use of chemicals is getting younger all the time.

“In the 1960s it was high school before people began to experiment,” she said. “Now it is junior high, and we’re beginning to see kids in elementary school beginning to use alcohol and drugs. Our students come to us as true freshmen, 18-19 years old and they have two or three years clean and sober. How can colleges not prepare themselves to receive these students.”

Harris knows the program at CSAR works, and she is sure it will work at other universities.

“What better age to make an investment in these young people, what better time to turn their lives around?” Harris said. “This is the tipping point in their lives. They get out of high school; they’re in recovery; they go to college and completely change the trajectory of their lives. That is why we are here.”

The students know the program works, as well. Harris can cite endless examples; Nerad and Speciale are only two.

“The center has allowed me to reach goals and dreams,” said Speciale. “When I came here, I was working in a restaurant, living in my car. I’ve been able to come so far, and who knows what’s next. I wish more people could have this opportunity.”

With Harris hard at work replicating the program across the country, Nerad focused on substance abuse policy, and Special moving on to build a similar community – his wish may indeed be fulfilled.


More about CSAR

Students participating in the CSAR Collegiate Recovery Community have access to extensive services to support their decision to remain in recovery and to improve their general life skills. Additionally, students attend 12-step group meetings held regularly on the Texas Tech campus. The pairing of education and recovery builds esteem in the students involved with CSAR. Their accomplishments translate into reduced problems for society, increased earning potential, heightened community involvement and broader commitment to service. Many recovering students choose to share their personal histories with their peers, their educators and their community in an effort to show that addiction is a treatable disease, not a moral weakness. To learn more about The Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech University, visit the CSAR website or Apply Now!


Sally Post is Director of Research & Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Feature image by Neal Hinkle.

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Nov 24, 2015