Rutgers’ Recovery House Helps Students Who Struggle with Addiction

The Recovery House at Rutgers University offers a living space for students who are recovering from addiction.

By Michael Hill

It’s the voice of the artistic Rutgers psychology major named only “M” to keep her anonymous. She’s a recovering alcoholic and marijuana addict who lives in The Recovery House at Rutgers with other students recovering.

What is it that takes place in The Recovery House?

“Magic. I don’t know. Maybe the level of connection is really deep because we all have a common experience, a common hardship. Through hardship, things can either fall apart or they can come together and they are great,” M said.

M has been sober for three and a half years. She’s the daughter of parents described as still in recovery. She says when she jumped into her recovery here and attended 12-step meetings and worked the 12 steps and helped others, she found her potential.

“Everything else kind of fell into place. My grades got a lot better. I started making the dean’s list. My relationships with people became better. And I was happier in general,” she said.

What is this house allowing to happen?

“Transformation. I kind of liken The Recovery House to a greenhouse,” said Keith Murphy.

Murphy is the recovery counselor who helps manage the day-to-day of the house, a house he describes as having guidelines instead of rules and a house where the average GPA is higher than the rest of campus.

“Intimacy creates community and I think what is happening here, people share their lives and struggles in a real and honest way without so much the artifice of trying to pretend to be somebody else — like you know where I’ve been, you know my struggles, you know where I’m going. You may not like me at certain times but you want the best for me. You want to love me into a place where I can graduate and I can see a full on life,” Murphy said.

“Your past shouldn’t rule you out from opportunities in your future. The Recovery House is that place that gives students an opportunity to rewrite the narrative of their life,” said Felicia McGinty, vice chancellor for student affairs at Rutgers.

“Safe havens such as recovery dorms are critical in our fight against addiction,” said Gov. Chris Christie.

Recovery advocates applauded the governor for committing to add $1 million for more campus recovery houses but when he spoke of expanding them in the state, some criticized him for this: “We need to ease the overly restrictive statutory, regulatory and code environment for residences.”

“There’s not regulation that says there has to be staff members there. There’s no regulation on a curfew. There’s no regulation on urine screens. And so we’ve had a number of people die over the last several years,” said Frank Greenagel, instructor at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers.

It was 1986 when a visionary alcohol counselor at Rutgers came up with the idea for a recovery house on campus. It would open its doors in the fall of ’88.

Lisa Laitman, director of Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program at Rutgers, established the first one.

“Yes I did. I didn’t know it at the time,” she said.

Laitman says she just blurted out the idea one night at a recovery group that met on Thursday nights, the party night.

“I just said it. And the first person who responded after a period of silence said, ‘Oh that’s a really bad idea.’ I said, ‘Why?'” Laitman said.

Thirty-plus years later, other universities still consult Laitman and Rutgers to set up their campus recovery houses — aiming for the kind of outcomes like M’s.

“It’s been amazing. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” she said.

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