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Counseling, off-campus resources teem in Western Pennsylvania

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At schools throughout Western Pennsylvania, students recovering from addictions can find counseling and information about off-campus resources to help with their recovery.

The University of Pittsburgh employs a full-time drug and alcohol specialist who can evaluate students, refer them for treatment or connect them with programs. The counseling center offers individual therapy and a support group.

Counselors there suggest that students drink responsibly or use healthy coping strategies -- a "harm-reduction approach" to alcohol use and abuse -- because they realize it's hard for some students to fully abstain from drinking, said Sharon Young, associate director of the center.

West Virginia University in Morgantown holds on-campus Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other support groups. The university offers direct counseling and therapy for students in recovery.

California University of Pennsylvania has a dedicated drug and alcohol counselor on staff and offers BASICS, a program sponsored by the State System of Higher Education, which targets at-risk students with alcohol awareness education.

Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and Saint Vincent College refer students to AA meetings and other programs off campus.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania students can opt for clean-and-sober living facilities. Students can choose to live on the SOAR floor (Students Opting for an Alcohol and Drug-free Residence) in the Suites on Maple East, said Ann Sesti, assistant director for IUP's Center for Health and Well-being.

"Most of the people who opt to live on that floor are choosing (it) more for health or lifestyle reasons than recovery," Sesti said. "It certainly is a supportive atmosphere for individuals who are in recovery and returning to the community and IUP."

IUP does not offer on-campus group support meetings, though it has. Counselors post information about AA and Narcotics Anonymous meetings within walking distance of campus, Sesti said.

Not all universities consider substance-free living the best way to help students adapt to life after addiction.

Corey Farris, interim dean of students and director of housing at WVU, said the school does not designate housing for students in recovery or those seeking a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. That can send a mixed message to students that it's OK to drink or do drugs in other residence halls, he said.

"To me, in the real world, a student is not going to live in an environment where there aren't people around them (drinking and using drugs)," Farris said.

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