A fundraising event will be held at The Howlin’ Wolf to raise public awareness of the serious problems of mental illness and substance abuse on campus.
The Feb. 26 concert for the Colin McCuaig Wheeler Sober Living Project begins at 8 p.m. and features Joe Krown with Walter Wolfman Washington and Russell Baptiste Jr.; John “Papa” Gros Band; and Bonerama at 907 S. Peters St.
The benefit will fund community outreach about the dangerous, growing trend. Tickets are $15, purchased from the Howlin’ Wolf website in advance at www.thehowlinwolf.com, or $20 at the door.
New Orleans therapist and addictions counselor Meredith Harris, who has counseled college students struggling with drugs and alcohol, hopes to open a sober-living dormitory accessible to students who need distance from the intense social pressures on campus. Her brother, Colin McCuaig Wheeler, died from an overdose.
Deaths on New Orleans college campuses have occurred this year and include suicides and accidental fatalities related to alcohol and drug use. A national study conducted in 2002 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that four out of five college students drink alcohol, and half of those binge. Nationally, 1,825 college students ages 18-24 died in 2002 from unintended injuries while drinking. Since 2001, campus alcohol-related deaths have increased 6 percent.
Yet even as the risks of substance abuse rise, local colleges are failing to provide sober-living residences for students who are “mandated,” i.e., those already identified as needing intervention or treatment. Ironically, freshman are often required to live in campus dormitories, which can be epicenters for partying and drug use. The temptations of communal living often lure at-risk students into the addictive behavior they hope to avoid.
Harris is advocating for an independent living facility to be used by several colleges where healthy, clean lifestyles are supported in a controlled, healthy environment offering professional oversight and therapeutic options.
“I have lost several clients to overdoses and suicide over the course of my career, yet the problem is only escalating,” Harris said.
Eight universities across the country have developed sober-living residences to help students at risk of failing academically or psychologically. Rutgers University was one of the first to start a housing program for students in recovery.
Hazelden created the first therapeutically supported college residence for students attending school in New York.
“Tribeca Twelve is New York City’s first attempt at answering a question raised by leaders in the emerging field of collegiate recovery,” the Village Voice wrote on Jan. 2, 2013. “Where should college students with substance-abuse problems live if the worst possible place anyone in recovery could live is a college dorm?”
The model that Harris and her supporters prescribe is a residential living facility some distance from campus where 12-step programs, individual and group therapy would be available on a daily basis. A nutritionally balanced meal plan would accompany a homelike environment where students would find emotional support and be able to study in peace and privacy. For information, email email@example.com.