For many students, moving to Ann Arbor to begin their careers at the University of Michigan is a time of excitement, curiosity and maybe a little bit of fear. But for School of Social Work graduate student Ivana Grahovac, the emotions were different.
As Grahovac prepared to start her time at the University, she was also recovering from a five-year addiction to heroin. Though she had been clean and sober for four-and-a-half years in her hometown of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., she wasn’t sure she could recreate that security in Ann Arbor.
Grahovac said coming to Ann Arbor was a “leap of faith” and that once she arrived, she felt her sobriety constantly threatened.
“I was constantly getting these e-mails about being invited to join people for keggers, drink night specials and pub-crawls,” she said. “There was just a real lack of understanding going on that maybe there are people for whom this would be a very bad choice and possibly cause some serious negative and tragic consequences to occur.”
It was in this environment that Grahovac decided to create Students for Recovery, a group aiming to support and provide provides information for students recovering from addiction. The group also helps students find sober programming as an alternative to the usual Friday night party filled with red Solo cups and alcohol.
Mary Jo Desprez, alcohol and other drugs policy administrator at the University Health Service on campus, said the group is part of a larger trend of campuses providing support groups for students recovering from addiction.
There are similar programs across the country at colleges like the University of Minnesota, Texas Tech University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Lara Hunter, coordinator of Clinical Alcohol and Other Drugs Services at Stony Brook, said in an e-mail interview that she started Stony Brook’s recovery group last year.
“It is vital to the well-being of the student in recovery to have other students that he or she can relate to and gain support from,” she wrote. “People in recovery need to alter or control their environments as much as possible as to not be in the face of alcohol or drugs and on a college campus. That is a challenge.”
To get the University of Michigan group off the ground, Grahovac reached out to School of Social Work Prof. Brian Perron, as well as University Health Service officials.
“I met with them,” she said. “And together they both gave me the thumbs up and said dream big.”
From there, Grahovac sent out an e-mail to all the students, faculty and staff in the School of Social Work inquiring about prospective interest in creating such a group. She said she received overwhelming support not only from people in recovery, but also from people who wanted to support.
Perron said he decided to work with the group because it fills a void on campus.
“There are many activities for people who are interested in going to parties,” he said. “But for someone with a substance abuse problem, this isn’t a helpful environment for them and the group recognizes this.”
He added that since this group is student-driven, it has the potential to be very attractive to students and continue to grow over the years.
Desperez said she’s excited to see a group like this at the University.
“We are filling a need for students in recovery to make sure they feel support from the University,” she said. “Especially if they make the transition to campus, which we think is important.”
Grahovac said she has already received feedback from many interested students.
“We’ve already gained so much momentum and attraction,” she said. “Every day people are e-mailing me. Everyone has just been waiting for something like this, it’s so needed.”
Grahovac added that the group has events like the “Sober Cycle Rally” and a “Halloween Barn Dance” planned for the next month. Group members are also planning on starting a campus-wide assessment for students in recovery to see what kind of programming they would like to have on campus.
The ultimate goal of the group is to reduce the stigma associated with addiction, Grahovac said.
“When people get clean and sober it doesn’t mean that they want to stop having fun or that they want to stop socializing,” she said. “They want to do all these things in a way that edifies their mind, body and spirit.”