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Students smile in front of a poster that features the LIFT logo and reads “LIFT, Living Intentionally, Finding Togetherness”

Around 40 students are part of the Florida State University LIFT recovery program during the 2022–23 academic year.

Florida State University

Florida State University’s collegiate recovery program (CRP) creates community for students seeking help from addiction and substance use and enables them to build accountability with peers.

Living Intentionally, Finding Togetherness (LIFT) serves both as a recovery program as well as programming related to substance abuse resources for the general campus community, and it has seen rapid growth in student engagement since relaunching a year and a half ago.

What’s the need: The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported an estimated 8.6 million young people between the ages of 18 to 25 met the criteria for substance use disorder in 2021.

Fifty percent of young adults drank alcohol in the month before they were surveyed, and 29.2 percent had engaged in binge alcohol use in the past month. Around 38 percent of young adults surveyed used illicit drugs, 35 percent used marijuana and 3.3 percent vaped nicotine, all in that past month.

A variety of factors play into a person’s substance use, but college students often use substances as stress relief or to reduce social anxiety.

Substance use can negatively impact a student’s academic performance and their physical and social health as well as increase tendencies for risky and dangerous behaviors, impacting overall success in higher education.

Collegiate recovery programs face negative stigmas in providing care for students—if a college has one, which 95 percent of institutions don’t.

“The national percentage of students identifying as being in recovery hovers around 4 percent of your student population, which is typically a lot more students than institutions realize,” says Angela Lauer Chong, associate vice president for student affairs and the dean of students at Florida State.

What is LIFT: LIFT started in fall 2019 because of a 2018 steering committee led by Chong. Few students engaged with the collegiate recovery program in the same ways during remote instruction, and therefore the program “essentially restarted” with renewed support from university administrators and alumni.

At the height of that first year, the program had seven students affiliated. This spring, however, “the LIFT program is thriving,” Chong says, with around 40 active participants and 1,100 unique student interactions.

“A CRP that not only serves students in recovery but provides multiple pathways for students to explore and seek a path to recovery is the future of success for students,” Chong says.

LIFT moved into a larger, more central space on campus in winter 2022, closer to administrative offices and community, programming and training spaces in the Thagard Building, and the institution’s dedicated substance use and addiction counselor in the counseling center also serves as a liaison to the CRP.

LIFT hosts weekly book clubs, general body meetings, social activities and recovery coaching for students. The program also promotes conference attendance and presentation.

Student involvement: LIFT offers two types of peer training programs, the Recovery Ally Program and Peer Accountability Partners.

The Recovery Ally Program (RAP) is a 90-minute training with an interactive workshop that asks students to self-reflect and monitor their substance use or addiction behaviors, Chong explains. “It encourages students to change the way they think about addiction, alter how they talk about substance misuse and adapt how they approach recovery.”

Students who complete RAP learn tools to intervene in their own habits and connect with resources.

Peer Accountability Partners are students who have spent at least one semester as a member of LIFT and finished RAP training. As a third requirement, students must complete the NASPA Peer Educator Certificate program or something equivalent, like completing 12-step work, majoring in social work or psychology, or participating in community work.

Peer mentors take on between one and three mentees, working about two hours per week with each student. They are responsible for providing social activities that are substance-free, accompanying their peers to recovery-oriented meetings, sharing campus resources and more.

Looking ahead: In the future, Chong hopes a wider campus population is aware of the program and its offerings, whether that’s support, becoming a recovery ally or having a conversation with a peer who is facing substance use disorder.

Florida State officials are recruiting for a full-time program coordinator and seeking additional grant funding to grow the program further. Alumni have also contributed to LIFT, with two gifts totaling $125,000 and a mini-documentary produced by alumnus Michael Ortoll about collegiate recovery communities and the importance of student support in alcohol and drug recovery.

“Ten LIFT participants are graduating this May, and I would like this to be the beginning of an alumni community so that they can continue in community beyond their years at FSU and provide mentorship to our current students in recovery,” Chong says.

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