Blake Schneider

Blake Schneider is the program coordinator for Mississippi State University's Collegiate Recovery Community.

More than 25 million Americans are in long-term recovery from substance abuse and process addictions, yet many remain unaware of the resources and tools that exist for those struggling with addiction. With September being celebrated as National Recovery Month, Mississippi State University Collegiate Recovery Community Program Coordinator Blake Schneider sat down with SDN to shed light on programs and resources on campus and in the Starkville area.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length:

Q: What is the Collegiate Recovery Community?

“The Collegiate Recovery Community is a support program on campus for students who are in recovery from drugs, alcohol or process addictions and want to stay sober while in college or come back to college. We offer college scholarships, recovery center programming, one-on-one assessments and an introductory program for students who are new to recover. A lot of different activities for students to engage in a safe and healthy environment.”

“We also have some events that are open to the public as well. So, we, during non-pandemic times, have sober tailgates, we do have like anonymous meetings at our locations on campus that folks can come to as well, as well as a few larger scale awareness events, but again that’s when people are able to gather safely.”

“Our overall mission, really in essence, is to provide students with the college experience while being in recovery, maintaining their recovery and going on to achieve their degrees and be successful.”

Q: How does the CRC define recovery?

“So, the CRC is based on an absence based model of recovery, which means that in order for students to be ‘card carrying members’ of the Collegiate Recovery Community, they have to be willing to stay abstinence free from all mind-altering substances and/or process addictions. So, say if someone joined the CRC for an eating disorder, they would also, for the safety and healthiness of the community, they would have to also abstain from any sort of mind-altering substances as well.”

“Now, medically assisted treatment or medically assisted recovery is certainly a thing that is important and helpful and beneficial to many, especially when it comes to the opioid pandemic. But what we ask with that is if students are on an inhibitor or blocker for opioids, we would really prefer that it be one that’s administered via injection.”

“I mention all that because that’s kind of a hot topic in the field of recovery right now, but we want to be inclusive to all while protecting the recovery of all of our students, and just, you know, in the interest of transparency. We really don’t run into that a lot here at Mississippi State, but we’re certainly willing to have that conversation and help those students to remain completely abstinence free.”

Q: Speaking of the pandemic, there have been various reports and studies published that have been showing an increase in relapse and people seeking treatment for substance abuse issues during the pandemic. How does a pandemic like the coronavirus contribute to substance use?

“Yeah, so I mean of course the pandemic has been tough on everybody, and especially those in recovery or those who are struggling with a substance use disorder before everything occurred. It’s been, there have been pros and there have been cons. I think some of the pros of this have been even though in-person meeting have been cancelled or postponed, Zoom meetings have become widely accepted and popular and widespread, so in a certain sense it’s easier for folks to be able to go to anonymous meetings for the first time from the comfort of their own home.”

“With the widespread suffering that everyone’s tasted and dealing with, a lot of folks have dealt with that adversely, and so the statistics kind of show that. Alcohol sales have been up 55 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. Online alcohol sales have been up 243 percent and one in three Americans were quoted as saying they had an intention to drink more during quarantine.”

“When it comes to drug use, we’ve seen a 12 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths from 2020 to 2019, so there’s been an increase there as well. So we know it’s been tough for people. We know that using and drinking has gone up in significant ways for a lot of folks.”

Q: With the increase in alcohol and drug use, what are some of the signs that people can look out for in themselves and in others that delineates a causal user from someone who needs to start seeking help?

“I think the easiest way I can answer that is whenever a person is using drugs, alcohol or other drugs, and it stops becoming fun for them, and they use in spite of not wanting to use anymore. That’s generally when it’s problematic. And so, a lot of times the way in which we see that play out is, you know, failed attempts to quit drinking or using, using or drinking in light of negative consequences, whether that be legal or personal or emotional or mental. And, then when it comes to students, we see that as absences in class, missed deadlines, that sort of thing. So when it begins to alter someone’s ability to live life on a daily basis in a significant way is generally when that person should maybe think about seeking help.”

“If you’re reading this and you’re curious if, ‘Do I have a problem,’ my recommendation is always just to stop drinking or using for two weeks. Whatever it is that you’re into, just stop doing that action for two weeks and see if you’re able to do it. And if you’re able to do it, then maybe you’re just a heavy drinker or user and you found that you can moderate or use sensibly. But if you’re not able to make that two week commitment, my question to folks is well, if you don’t have a problem, then why weren’t you able to stop for two weeks. I think that’s always a good litmus test to gauge that people can use to gauge whether or not they may or may not have a problem.”

Q: If somebody does that two week test and fails and says, ‘Hey, I really think I need to look toward getting some help,’ what are some of the resources out there. If there was a student on campus, they may be far from home and not really have those people nearby that they can confide in. What are some of the resources that are available to them?

“Sure. So, specifically for students, of course our program, the Collegiate Recovery Community, provides hopefully all of the support an individual would need to begin and maintain and sustain their recovery. All of our information can be found on our website at recover.msstate.edu, contact information, meeting schedule, a little bit more information about our program, that sort of thing.”

“I’d also encourage folks, if they’re in the Starkville area, maybe they’re not a student. I would encourage them to look at their local anonymous recovery community. Just a simple Google search of like Starkville AA or Starkville NA if it was more drug related. And then, in something else to consider as well, if someone was leading a faith-based life, and they were interested in recovery, I would look up Celebrate Recovery, which is a faith-based Christian group. They’ve been impactful for a lot of folks in the local community. I think the biggest thing is making your start wherever you can.”

Q: What resources are available for students and people in the community who, it may not be themselves who are having the problem, but maybe they see a friend or family member who is struggling?

“So that group is traditionally known as Al Anon and is for folks who have loved ones who are struggling with a substance use disorder. And there’s a lot of versions of Al Anon. There’s CODA, which is Co-dependents Anonymous, there’s Nar Anon, which is Narcotics Anonymous for loved ones. We don’t have a ton of those resources in Starkville, but I do know for a fact there is an Al Anon meeting in Columbus, which is only a hop, skip and a jump away.”

“Another resource I would recommend, and again there’s nothing in the local community like this that’s in-person, but it’s called Parents of Addicted Loved Ones, PAL. I know that a lot of our parents of students have really enjoyed support from that group, and I believe they might have resources online, as well, so I would encourage folks to look into that.”

Q: Depending on who you talk to, there’s a lot of different theories out there as to what addiction is and the various ways to handle it, that it’s a matter of choice or it’s a matter of personal failing on their part, or other people believe that it’s a genetic predisposition. Is there any consensus on the research on that?

“We know that addiction is a deadly disease and that it’s a healthcare issue. It’s listed in the DSM 5, which is the diagnostic manual for clinicians and psychologists and psychiatrists. That list says a mental health disorder.”

“There’s a difference between someone who is a heavy drinker or user and someone who has crossed the line into addiction, and interestingly enough it’s the only disease that I know of that is 100 percent self-diagnosable. So, in order for someone to step into recovery from addiction, they have to acknowledge first within themselves that they have that problem.”

“You know, research has indicated that a lot of people do have a genetic predisposition. But, you don’t have to have a parent or grandparent that struggled with addiction in order to have addiction. That’s not necessarily a required precursor, but it is fairly commonplace. I think environment plays a big part in that as well. Something that you hear in genetics is the genetics loaded the gun and the environment pulled the trigger. So, it’s a combination of things coming together that would someone as classifying someone as having addiction, and I think one of the biggest defining pieces of that is someone’s inability to live life on a daily basis and having been greatly hindered by their drinking or using or process addiction.”

“We do know, scientifically speaking, that when someone uses a certain chemical, it will create different pathways in their brain. They can do brain scans, and say someone that their drug of choice was alcohol, you flash them a visual of a bottle or a shot, and their brain will light up Christmas tree. So we know that it centers in the brain and that folks who have an addiction physically react differently that those who do not have an addiction.”

Q: So, for someone who is sitting at home in quarantine and find themselves unable to control their use, and they feel very lost and don’t know what to do, what would you say to that person?

“The very first thing I want that person to understand is they’re not alone. I know for me, I’m a person in long-term recovery, and I’ve been in that exact same situation. I wasn’t necessarily in quarantine, but I remember being so alone and thinking no one understood the struggles that I was going through or drank or used the way that I did. And so, when I was introduced to treatment, when I was introduced to 12-step anonymous programs, I finally realized, I was like, ‘Wow! There are other people who have had the same shared experiences that I have.’”

“So, I would want that person to know that they’re not alone. I would also want that person to know that, you know, I think there’s a common misperception that if you reach out it’s a sign of weakness, but really I think that’s just ego kind of getting in the way, and we know that reaching out and asking for help is a sign of strength. Look at any powerful leader or person in the world, and they generally have a team behind them that helps them when they don’t have the answers.”

“There’s absolutely no shame or guilt that needs to be associated with reaching out for help, and as long as they have the willingness and the desire to make a change in their life that once they’re connected to some sort of community they’ll find folks that will be with them every step of the way. There’s no reason to suffer anymore than you have to, so don’t hesitate to reach out, whether it be to the CRC or the local anonymous community, whatever that may look like.”

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

“September is National Recovery Month, and so I’m really grateful for this article be posted for that, and hopefully folks will see some stuff, whether that be on Facebook or some other news outlets about recovery and the recovery movement and how important that is, not only here in America but worldwide.”

“I think too, with Recovery month becoming more and more prominent, that it’s not this thing that’s hush, hush and doesn’t need to be talked about, doesn’t need to be shared. You know there are, I think, more than 25 million Americans in recovery, which is a large swath of our population, and so to be able to speak about it and share about it is really cool, and I hope folks will continue to support and talk about recovery because it really is something that need attention and that at the end of the day is centered around helping people change and shape their lives for the better. So, yeah, go National Recovery Month!”

To learn more about the Collegiate Recovery Community, visit recovery.msstate.edu. For a listing of local anonymous meetings in the Starkville area, visit StarkvilleAA.org or NA.org and search for Starkville. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and needs help, call the national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for a free, confidential treatment referral.

Disclaimer: Thomas Howard is a graduate of the Mississippi State Collegiate Recovery Community.

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