Mixed into the hodgepodge of resources located in the Student Union is a gem, the Sober Living Group. Like other lesser known programs, until students glean over the main UAA website calendar (which is — let’s be real — hardly a choice during our limited spare time), this program could easily get lost in the shuffle unnoticed.
The Sober Living Group, which started this past spring semester is a program that follows the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting model. AA is a free, renowned fellowship where people share their stories, strength and hope with one another that they together, may solve their common problem to recover from alcoholism. Sober Living has been running for months and is open to both students and the community, but it is still very much in its infancy and is still taking shape.
According to the State of Alaska Health and Social Services, the per capita rate of alcoholism in Alaska is one of the highest in the nation. The prevalence of alcohol dependence and abuse is at 14 percent of the population, twice the national average at 7 percent. With that said, there are literally dozens of AA groups all over Anchorage that meet on the hour.
Other than convenience, what makes Sober Living stand out? It is more intimate when compared to other AA groups around town, where one could get lost in a sea of members. You feel a sense of connection with fellow students addressing the same issue. Most importantly, special care is dedicated to ensure anonymity and safety by those who genuinely root for your success in both school and life.
The program is provided by and supported through the Dean of Students Office, which serves as a core resource for student development. UAA’s Alcohol and Drug Wellness Educator typically oversees this program — however, since the position is vacant, Assistant Director of Student Conduct Michael Votava has temporarily taken over.
“We’ve been approached by a number of students who expressed their interest of forming an AA group on campus,” Votava said, emphasizing that this program was in response to their requests.
Participants of Sober Living opened up about their experiences with the program, but we have withheld their identities due to the nature of this article.
“It’s not about finding yourself, but creating yourself,” one participant said. “There is no cure, but there is a solution.”
“People have this stigma that comes with being an alcoholic; it’s often viewed as poor social standing but the reality is that it could happen to anybody and is something that could be treated,” another participant said. “This is really a no pressure support system that works.”
The very mention of the word “stigma” makes one wonder: Will this program flourish? Will students feel inclined to approach this with an open mind?
The Dean of Students and Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Development Dewain Lee is focused on securing anonymity so that students feel a sense of trust.
“We don’t know how many students show up regularly, we don’t know numbers, we don’t know names, male or female — we don’t want to know that,” Lee said. “We want to know that the program is going on and that it is successful for the sake of the students. The main thing we want to make sure of is that it is a safe environment for students.”
“Think about it,” Lee continued, “if the Dean of Students was leading the group or going into the group or even the Conduct Officer, it would not be effective, so we really stay hands-off.”
Lee said that in positive strides, there is now a permanent office for the Alcohol and Drug Wellness Educator, room 117 in PSB. UAA hopes to fill the vacant position before the fall semester starts. Lee also wanted to reiterate that the Dean of Students Office is a point of contact for other issues and struggles students may be experiencing. They are able to make referrals as necessary.
For more information on the Sober Living Group, do not hesitate to contact the Dean of Students Office at 786-1214 to speak with Michael Votava or Dewain Lee. You can also stop by their office, located in the Student Union, room 204.