Thanks to grants from the Arizona Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family and non-profit organization Transforming Youth Recovery, Northern Arizona University is establishing a program that will provide support for students in recovery from substance abuse and expand the number of social events on campus.

Similar recovery programs exist at more than 130 colleges and universities across the country, and it is estimated that more than 8 percent of Americans need treatment for substance abuse. Research suggests students in these programs have higher GPAs, graduate at higher rates and have a lower likelihood of relapse into substance abuse. Leisure activities are a key part of these programs.

“What I hear from people who are drinking excessively is ‘well, there’s nothing else to do,’” said Kelsey Pruett, a graduate service assistant at Campus Health Services who screens students for substance abuse problems. “A lot of them say, ‘if there were other things to do, I’d love that.’”

All events hosted by SUN Entertainment and Unions and Student Activities are alcohol-free, but many students have given feedback that they desire even more opportunities to socialize without alcohol.

“There’s a ton of students who say, ‘I’m not really into drinking. I’d like to have more fun with sober activities on campus,’” said Melissa Griffin, NAU Health Promotion manager, who is co-managing the program with a colleague in Counseling Services. Attendance at such events supports those claims: more than 700 people attended this year’s Homecoming Flannels and Flapjacks breakfast, a 37 percent increase over last year’s numbers.

Alcohol-free events provide more than a safe night out; they’re also opportunities for students in recovery to build a network of friends to support them. For Iridian Nunez, a biomedical science student and president of the Student Health Advocacy Committee, the collegiate recovery program is an extension of the care individuals in the university community show for each other.

“NAU is very big on creating a communal support system for everybody,” said Nunez. “You should feel that support from the people you’re surrounded by.”

The program will kick off in January with a “live-free” weekend that asks students to pledge to be sober all of that weekend.

Friday, Jan. 29

  • Sober Social Hour and Program Sign-Up, 7-8 p.m., the Health and Learning Center. Students can take the live-free pledge and enjoy free pizza, coffee, tea and yerba mate.
  • Climbing Wall Takeover, 8-11 p.m., Campus Recreation. Students will receive some basic climbing tips and climb the night away.

Saturday, Jan. 30

  • Challenge Course and Pancake Breakfast, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., the Hub (University Fieldhouse). Students will enjoy flapjacks and head out to the ropes challenge course for some extreme fun.
  • S’Mores and More, 8-11 p.m., the Health and Learning Center. Students are invited to meet up for an outdoor campfire, s’mores and live music outside the HLC.

Sunday, Jan. 31

  • Sedona Meditation Trip, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., meet at the Health and Learning Center. Students will enjoy an outdoor adventure and guided yoga and meditation among the red rocks of Sedona.
  • Sober Social Hour, 5-7 p.m., the Hub (University Fieldhouse). Students can stop in for snacks, support or just to have a place to do homework.