Three weeks after Jimmy Stitt started his freshman year at Ohio University, he found himself in a back alley wearing handcuffs.
He was arrested after receiving after his first underage drinking charge in fall 2012.
“Didn’t think too much of it,” Stitt said.
Fast forward one year later, and he picked up an underage drinking citation after the police broke up a party he was attending.
“I had a beer in my back pocket,” Stitt said. “Not 21, (so) that (was) a problem.”
Stitt said he started drinking a little in high school, but his alcohol consumption increased throughout college. When he would go out on weekends, he said he would drink to excess.
Almost 60 percent of college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and almost two out of three of those students took part in binge drinking in that timeframe, according to a survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2015. Binge drinking is defined as consuming in two hours a minimum of four drinks for women and five drinks for men, according to the NIAAA.
“When you come here as a freshman, the drinking is not encouraged; it’s expected,” Stitt said. “You’re at OU. You know what to do.”
During his undergraduate years, Stitt, now a 23-year-old graduate student studying critical studies in education foundations, said even though OU’s party school reputation and more than 20 bars didn’t cause his drinking problems, the choices he made led him down a dark path.
“Ultimately, it came to the point where I was going to stop drinking ... and (make) some changes, or I was going to get kicked out of school,” Stitt said.
The Path to Recovery
In September 2014, Stitt began a six-week program at GlenBeigh, an alcohol and drug treatment center in Rock Creek, about an hour outside of Cleveland. He took a medical withdraw from OU during Fall Semester.
His mom, Lori Kusluch, would drive two and a half hours each way from Pittsburgh every Sunday to see her son.
“I felt that he sucked the life out of me emotionally and physically because I had spent so much time worrying about him,” Kusluch said.
He returned to OU for Spring Semester, and after a day of drinking, he got into a fight at Big Mamma’s Burritos, where he ended up going through the window of the restaurant.
The police arrived soon after, and for the second time in his life, Stitt wound up in jail, where he called his mom.
“I had to say to him, ‘You know what, Jimmy, I’m really sorry to hear that you are making some bad decisions, and I hope things work out for you, and I’ll pray for you, and I hope everything works out,’ and I had to hang up,” Kusluch said. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Recovery Through the Ages
Addiction is not a new problem for OU students. When Athens City Councilman Kent Butler attended OU in the early ‘90s, one of his junior year roommates was a drug dealer.
“You can imagine where my priorities were,” Butler said. “So, consequently, I went from making the Dean’s List my freshman year to almost failing, flunking out my junior year because of the decisions I was making which was related to partying.”
Butler thinks addiction resources on campus would have helped him, but designated resources didn’t exist at school the same way they do now.
The Collegiate Recovery Community began at OU in 2012 and is a part of the Campus Involvement Center, which falls under the Division of Student Affairs.
“The collegiate recovery program is part of what we do here, and basically we provide support for students who are in recovery, who are seeking recovery or maybe they’ve been impacted by the addiction of a loved one,” Ann Addington, assistant director for health promotion, said. She came to the program in July 2013.
There are three universities in Ohio with collegiate recovery programs — OU, Ohio State University and Case Western University — and more than 160 such programs exist on college campuses across the country, according to Transforming Youth Recovery, an organization that provides recovery resources to students.
Stitt is the graduate assistant for the Collegiate Recovery Community for the 2016-17 academic year, and he tells his recovery story to different learning communities. He has been sober since Feb. 18, 2015, the day of the fight that put him in jail for a second time.
“I get tears in my eyes every time (he tells the story),” Addington said.
Butler, who now has worked as a drug and alcohol counselor for more than 15 years, said he likes that jobs working with people with addictions help to make a difference in people’s lives.
“That’s the most rewarding aspect, to see a person who was in the depths of hell climb their way back out and accept a friendly hand of support and then have a whole new outlook on life,” Butler said.
Recovery options at OU
OU’s Collegiate Recovery Community includes R.I.S.E., SMART recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
R.I.S.E. meetings stand for Recovery to Inspire, Share and Empower, and the meetings are open to OU students, faculty and staff. The meetings provide support for those in recovery from alcohol and other drugs.
SMART recovery stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. Those meetings are open to the whole Athens community.
Stitt got more involved in R.I.S.E. and SMART recovery groups over time.
“The way that I look at it is we’re all in this together, so we need to help each other out, provide support when we can and encourage one another,” Stitt said.
Ryan Dunham is a person who, without the help of OU’s recovery resources, might not have been able to overcome his addiction.
Dunham is pursuing his Ph.D in mass communication at OU, and he first heard about the Collegiate Recovery Community through a friend.
“It was a resource that I didn’t even know existed until my friend started talking about it,” Dunham said. “I had reached a point where I was sick of drinking.”
He had tried to stay sober on his own and made it “about 53 days” before he started drinking again.
Now that Dunham has gone through recovery programs and is sober, he said his schoolwork has improved, and he had a few short stories published.
“Drinking was taking up all my free time,” Dunham said. “I put so much energy into drinking the way I wanted to drink, that school suffered.”
Sobriety and Support
Dunham said it doesn’t bother him when he sees people drinking Uptown.
“When I see everyone drunk and out at the bars I just kind of laugh at myself,” Dunham said. “What makes me sad is that with the kind of culture we have on this campus, there’s probably a lot of people who could benefit even from just thinking about recovery.”
His advice for those thinking about going through recovery is not to be afraid to ask for help.
Stitt said there are times it is difficult being in recovery.
“There are still days when it’s challenging, when it’s Friday night, and you know what Court Street looks like, but it’s easy for me because I just play the tape through in my head,” Stitt said. “I ultimately know what’s going to happen. There’s no justifying.”
Stitt’s mom said her son recovering from his addiction has made him grow up.
“I feel like he is now an adult meaning that he is so aware and so responsible and looks for other ways to find entertainment whether it’s hiking or reading a book,” Kusluch said. “I’ve seen him mature.”
Now that he has stopped drinking, Stitt said he does not miss feeling hungover.
“I can’t even put into words what a wonderful feeling that is,” Stitt said. “I think my productivity level in general has gone way up.”