For many students, college is a transitional process in which they must deal independently with issues of stress, anxiety and depression. While some students cope reasonably well, others develop addictive habits as they turn to illegal drugs and alcohol to treat their symptoms. Addiction is a disease, like depression or compulsive gambling, and the current reliance on imprisonment and revocation of rights to stem college-age drug offenders does little to help students tackle the root of their problems.
Current drug legislation has a drastic effect on student offenders. The Aid Elimination Penalty is an addition to the Higher Education Act that revokes federal financial aid to students convicted of a drug charge while attending school. Students are able to restore their aid after one year, upon successful completion of a treatment program, but the damage of not having financial aid for a year can ultimately determine whether a student is able to pursue a degree.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 200,000 students have been denied federal aid since the law was passed in 1998. More than 9,000 of those have been Florida students. The statistics do not include the number of students who don’t bother filling out the FAFSA past question 31, which asks whether a student has been convicted of a drug offense.
In Florida, state aid awards are also revoked for drug offenses. The national and state penalties leave few options for students who cannot independently afford college. The Bright Futures scholarship, an essential component of Florida’s state aid program, is permanently suspended following any felony conviction. While FAFSA and Bright Futures were created to provide assistance for needy students, the Aid Elimination Penalty seems to undermine that goal.
Colleges such as Yale, Swarthmore College and the University of California, Berkeley have found success with alternatives to the Higher Education Act. Yale and Swarthmore make up the total difference for any aid lost because of the penalty. UC-Berkeley offers a $400 scholarship to help students pay for small expenses while searching for different sources of financial aid.
For college students, a variety of social forces seem to contribute to substance abuse.
“There are a number of treatment approaches to address problem drinking or drug use, but the goal of all approaches is to help the person change behavior,” according to the USF Counseling Center Web site.
However, students at greater risk for long-term addiction may need a more intensive treatment program.
“This may be especially true for those who are physically addicted to alcohol or drugs, or those who have made previous attempts to change their behavior and failed, or students with other mental health concerns in addition to problems with alcohol or other drug use,” the site says.
The Counseling Center offers counseling, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, skill development, peer support and self-help groups.
“Frequently, a combination of approaches is most effective. Research suggests that the more times that a person confronts their drinking or using behavior, the greater the probability of success in achieving long-term change,” the site says.
For those seeking counseling or treatment, the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at USF’s Counseling Center offers individual consultation and therapy. Abigail Saneholtz, coordinator of CASA, has helped develop programs that seek to educate students about drug addiction and provide short-term treatment and psychotherapy.
“A staff member appropriately assesses the level of severity of an individual’s addiction problem, provides appropriate treatment and makes appropriate referrals outside of the Counseling Center for those with more severe addiction issues,” she said.
For severe addiction problems, CASA can refer students to local organizations with more resources, such as the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office and the Phoenix House, both of which are located in Tampa. Additionally, Responsible Education and Action for Campus Health (REACH), a student-based organization, offers peer counseling and educational resources for USF students with drug problems.
If help is needed, contact CASA at 813-974-9403 or visit their office in SVC 2124. The REACH organization is available at 813-974-4936 or their office in SHS 100.