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New organization aims to bring support to OU students struggling with addiction

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United Students in Service

Members of the United Students in Service stand together for a photo Sept. 5.

At the end of his sophomore year, Max Vrana hit a breaking point.

He was doing and dealing drugs, having unhealthy sexual relationships, stopped taking his depression medication and at times even felt suicidal.

“I kept digging a hole further and further to where I was looking out of the hole and there was no way to get out of it,” he said.

With no one on campus to turn to, Vrana came clean to his parents. In rehab that summer, he first uttered the words that sparked his path to recovery.

“My name is Max Vrana, and I am an addict.”

Students like Vrana who struggle with addiction will have the opportunity to seek support in a new student-led group on campus this semester.

OU’s United Students in Service is an organization for students in recovery from any type of addiction and those who support recovery. The organization aims to promote and encourage students to find recovery communities, do community outreach and increase awareness about addiction.

Substance abuse and addiction is a major issue on college campuses, according to the Center on Addiction, a non-profit group aimed at lessening America’s addiction crisis.

The group hosts 12-step recovery meetings in the Zarrow School of Social Work at noon on Tuesdays and 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. The meetings, during which students share their experiences and read from the 12-step booklet, are a safe place for those in and seeking recovery. Nearly a dozen people are currently involved.

The group was created by Dustin Huckabe, a transfer student from Texas Tech University. The social work junior is in long-term recovery from a drug and alcohol addiction and had been a part of a Collegiate Recovery Program at his former university, which serves as the inspiration for OU’s group.

“It benefited me in great ways. It pushed me to succeed, and I want to give that back,” Huckabe said.

Huckabe said he never thought he could be successful in college. He thought that he would take a semester or two and scrape by — until he became part of the recovery group and saw others dealing with and overcoming the same issues.

“It changed the course of my academics forever,” Huckabe said.

When Huckabe got to OU, Jess Eddy, director of strategic initiatives in the office of the university community, reached out to him and asked if he wanted to create a group at OU. Eddy, who struggled with addiction during his time as an undergraduate at OU, was looking to create a resource for students on campus.

“I hope that this group becomes a safe place for students who are suffering,” Eddy said. “I hope that they can meet people who suffered — endured similar circumstances and dealt with some of the same issues and problems – that have gotten through.”

Huckabe said the group will also allow students on campus who are in recovery to talk and hang out, creating bonds the way that other student groups do. For Vrana, that’s the best part.

When Vrana was living in a halfway house, he spent time with people who were older than him. As a college student, he felt his social atmosphere was limited. It was hard to spend time with students partying when he couldn’t join in.

Vrana became aware of the group through Eddy and Huckabe, friends from the general Norman recovery community.

Vrana said that it would have helped to be able to get sober with other 20-year-olds. He thinks that social element to the group will be encouraging for students. As the group grows, Huckabe said they are hoping to be able to host sober tailgates and other social events.

“I think community is the most important aspect of it,” Vrana said. “You kind of get to a point where you’re not necessarily worried about taking a drink today, but I just go because I like the friendships I have, I like the relationships I have in the community.”

Eddy said that the college atmosphere makes it difficult for those dealing with addiction to be abstinent, because drinking is a big part of college culture.

That’s why it’s crucial to have resources for students dealing with addiction on college campuses, where they live and go to class everyday, Eddy said.

Huckabe created a Facebook page for the group at the end of August. It already has over 70 followers and is gaining momentum.

Vrana said he hopes the group can help inspire more programs like the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities at Texas Tech. The center offers a host of resources for students such as recovery-living dorms, academic advising and mentorship.

When Vrana made the decision to get sober, he said things had gotten so bad that he had nothing left to cling on to. He said that with programs on campus, students can be proactive about seeking help before things escalate.

“You don’t have to wait for it to get horribly wrong,” Vrana said.

Huckabe shares Vrana’s hope for the group’s growth. Huckabe hopes that the organization shows a need on campus, and inspires OU to adopt a collegiate recovery program.

“I want to give that back,” Huckabe said. “I want to give that back to the students that are on campus that are suffering in silence and let them know that their voice can be heard and that we can come together and do this thing together and that they don’t have to do this thing alone anymore.”

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