AUD is the clinical term for having an alcohol addiction, defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a “chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake and a negative emotional state when not using.”
Allison said many college students participate in unhealthy drinking behaviors because of factors like newfound independence from parents, academic stress and social anxiety. Large universities with NCAA Division I sports and active Greek life, such as UNC, also tend to have higher drinking rates than other colleges.
Allison leads the Carolina Recovery Program, an organization under Student Wellness that provides support for students battling substance use disorders or who are in recovery. He also helps students who must medically withdraw and enter treatment programs.
The organization offers regular meetings, substance-free social events and emotional support for its members, which number about 40 to 50 people. Allison said the program “meets students where they’re at,” whether that means they have an addiction, are concerned they could develop one or are in recovery.
Other recovery initiatives on campus include Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students, and Balance, a residential learning program that includes the Recovery House, a community of substance-free rooms for students in recovery.
Allison said he thinks the Carolina Recovery Program does well with the resources it has, but the organization doesn’t have their own space on campus. He has been advocating for a central location on campus accessible to its members, and he also hopes to create a seminar class on recovery, as well as a recovery zone training similar to Safe Zone.
Vickers joined the Carolina Recovery Program in February 2016, and she said the members are dedicated to supporting each other. The group has an S.O.S. system where someone can text their group message if they’re tempted to use or are just having a bad day, and someone will come help them.
Another student in the Carolina Recovery Program, who wanted to remain anonymous, struggled with a drug and alcohol addiction in high school. They have been sober almost three years now and came to UNC in recovery. The student lives in an Oxford House in Chapel Hill, which provides a substance-free environment for people in recovery.
During days like Halloween, the national championship and Duke games — when there’s a lot of visible substance use — the student said they mentally prepare themselves and draw support from other students in recovery.
“The day I don’t worry about those days is a very bad day. If I ever think this is not going to be a big deal at all, that’s a concerning place to be,” they said. “Thankfully, I always acknowledge the fact that on those certain days, there’s going to be a lot of drinking, maybe some belligerence, and just be ready. I talk to the people in my network, my mentors, and tell them any concerns.”
On the rare occasion that the student chooses to go to a bar with friends, they tell someone in their recovery network so they can be held accountable to not use substances.
Allison said students can avoid isolating their friends in recovery by not making alcohol the focus of social gatherings.
"Especially if your friend is in early recovery, make time for them that doesn't involve substances and realize that they might really feel apart from, not a part of," Allison said.
Some students who return to campus after beginning recovery must face the temptations of places around campus where they used to drink or do drugs. Vickers said memories of her struggles with alcohol can be triggered by just walking around campus.
“Even now I can walk down Franklin Street and point to places where I got in a fight with someone or places where I blacked out,” Vickers said.
Early in recovery, Vickers didn’t go out at all. During her first year of sobriety, seeing parties on social media was a temptation for her. To overcome this, she took steps such as watching the Duke game from her dorm and spending Halloween handing out candy with her parents.
While the recovery process has been difficult for Vickers, she can now occasionally go to a bar or party with friends without being tempted to drink and feels more secure in her recovery.
Allison said those in recovery eventually reach a place where they are free from the temptations of substance use.
"You reach a point where alcohol's not the issue," Allison said. "You're really more focused on, how can you live a more principled life? How can you help other people deal with this problem?"