Jennifer Hafer 2017-07-27 21:05:17
Students’ research looks at substance abuse in innovative ways Kayce Courson remembers well the feeling she had when she had her first drink at 14 years old. It was like “somebody turned up the lights a little brighter.” “I just remember wanting to recreate that feeling as many times as I could,” she said. “It made my head shut up for just a second.” Courson’s alcoholism would eventually turn into an addiction to opiates, and eventually, like a lot of other people suffering from addiction, she was faced with an ultimatum: treatment or prison. “While it is intriguing that a person not far removed from behavioral consequences of that magnitude, what is most important to note about my experiences within addiction and my subsequent recovery is the transformation in behavior and cognition that manifest in the opportunity to attend institutions of higher education, participate in groundbreaking research, while pursuing a degree,” Courson said. A first-year student in Kennesaw State University’s Master of Social Work program, Courson is part of the Center for Young Adult Addiction Recovery (CYAAR) community on campus. Three years sober, Courson and fellow MSW student Naomi Figley have teamed up with CYAAR Associate Director Austin Brown to pioneer a new science – the science of recovery. “When a student applies to become a part of the CYAAR, they have to write a one-to-two-page recovery biography, and we have nine years of these biographies, so we began going back over these stories to find the thematic elements that were similar in all these stories,” Brown explained. “We had this treasure trove of information that didn’t exist any place else, making it the perfect place to do research on the phenomenon of recovery.” Though addiction and recovery are usually lumped together when talking about the disease and its aftermath, the science has been focused on the symptoms and treatment of addiction, rather than recovery sustainability. “The measurement issue tends to center around use or nonuse, but that’s just one symptom of the pathology as a whole,” Brown said. “That’s like trying to figure out what a flu is and how to treat it by counting how many sneezes there are.” Brown and his team are radically changing the use-nonuse paradigm by allowing the data to generate a theory, rather than using it to test a hypothesis. “We’re the only ones I know of doing this type of research,” Brown said. “We’re doing it from the standpoint where we allow recovery to be what it is and we use that to define and measure it. We call it the topography of recovery. If we stand on a map of recovery and we look around, what are the landmarks for successful recovery; how are those landmarks formed; and how do they help sustain recovery?” Established in 2008 with just three students, today 60 students are part of the CYAAR collegiate recovery program, and hundreds of students have received recovery support services as part of the campus community. On some college campuses, the recovery community can consist of nothing more than three students meeting in the dining hall for a meeting after class. At Kennesaw State, students in the collegiate recovery community (CRC) have access to counseling, meetings and advising – services aimed at protecting their sobriety in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for students in recovery. “What is so great about this research is our MSW students are helping other students with substance abuse issues on campus,” said Monica Nandan, chair of Department of Social Work and Human Services. “Their applied research has meaning and has the potential to move the needle, they are designing a program protocol based on what students state they struggle with when they are attempting to find and maintain a new identity that is substance-free.” As final edits are made on the research findings, which will be submitted to academic journals for peer review and publication later this year, the students hope the work they have done will help struggling CRCs develop evidenced-based programing on campuses across the country. They also hope it will facilitate positive identity reformation for people in recovery from substance use disorders, while building a foundation for the field of recovery science. “We followed the transformative processes throughout the narratives of active addiction into recovery and created the Identity Transformation Model,” Figley said. “By examining the root elements of the experiences, we can build programming that facilitates progress through the topographical benchmarks. One of our findings is that human connection is the greatest mechanism for facilitating change.” According to CYAAR Director Teresa Johnston, continued research and exploration of recovery as a science in its own right is critical for the future prevention, education and treatment of substance use disorders. “The Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery is committed to providing students the opportunity to do cutting edge collaborative research and to add to the body of knowledge in the field,” she said. Taking the lead on developing an entire science around how students get better, whether they are in recovery from substance use disorders, a process addiction or an eating disorder, is further developing the CYAAR’s reputation as a national leader in supporting students with addictions, Brown said. “We’re not shooting for anything less than completely revolutionizing the field,” he said.
Published by Kennesaw State / Kennesaw State University Magazine. View All Articles.
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