Options: Mastering the Challenges of Life

By AndrewPhillips, Director, Children of Alcoholics Foundation, a New York based, non-profit organization which is an affiliate of Phoenix House

Options is the first comprehensive program designed specifically to help college students who come from families affected by parental alcohol or other substance abuse (most often referred to as ACOAs or ACOSAs).

Did you know?

One in eight college students have grow up with a parent who abuses or is addicted to alcohol or other drugs. This is more than 1,200,000 students across the United States, (based on approximate total enrollment for two and four year schools).

Why should colleges be concerned about ACOA/SAs in their student population?

These students have often experienced neglect, sexual or physical abuse towards them or their siblings and have usually been exposed to very high levels of stress. They have frequently taken on parental responsibilities for their siblings, as well as the addicted adult, with out the support of friends or family. These experiences typically happen within a veil of denial and secrecy, where the rule is "...don't talk, don't tell".

Drug or alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior and unwanted pregnancy, suicide attempts, eating disorders, school failure, criminal activity and violence are all more likely to occur within this group of vulnerable young adults. They generally have deep feelings of shame or guilt about their family's "secret" and often have difficulty developing or maintaining healthy relationships.

Compared to other non-COA students, youth from addicted families also experience more injuries and illness, and are hospitalized more often for anxiety and depression.

The good part is that, by making it to college, these students have shown they can overcome significant odds. Many may even be your best students. However, they may also be overwhelmed by the combination of new freedoms and the academic or social pressures of college life, resulting in poor performance in classes or possibly dropping out of school all together.

College is a time of personal growth and exploration. It is also a time when underlying feelings about a family member's substance abuse can come to the surface, often for the first time. Even if they received help in high school, most colleges do not have programs specifically designed for students from addicted families. Students from addicted homes can benefit greatly from help coming to terms with their family situation and developing skills for success.

What is Options: Mastering the Challenges of College Life ?

Options helps students understand their family and their past experiences, while giving them usable solutions for the future. It also teaches campus staff about the opportunities they have to enhance the ACOA/SA student's college experience. One of the great things about Options is that it can be customized to match a college or university's specific needs.

It has been field-tested in college environments (at Rutgers University, New Jersey; Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania and the University of California at Riverside) and provides practical solutions to common situations, incorporating the real-life experiences of college students. Options was also independently evaluated by MAGI Educational Services, Inc. and focus groups were conducted on all student materials with both the general population of students on each campus as well as students who were identified as having a history of family addiction. The training modules were tested as well, with a variety of on-campus professionals, all to very positive response.

Options Components

  1. Student awareness-building materials for use campus-wide:

    Designed to appeal to students with or without a history of parental addiction, the Student Booklet explores the impact of a parent's drinking or drug abuse on the student, their college life, and encourages students to use this time to focus on their own feelings and goals. 82% of the students who read the booklet said they would talk about it with a friend or a family member; 70% said they would seek support by contacting a counselor or one of the resources listed.

    Wallet Card:
    A handy wallet card is for all college students, and is especially good for ACOA/SAs, who feel anxious about going home for the holidays or other college breaks. The card helps students plan ahead and find healthy outlets to relieve the stress of spending time with family.

    An eye-catching four color poster can be used to call attention to the reality that parental substance abuse can create problems for students, and provides space to refer them to resources, such as the health center, on your college campus.

  2. Student Handbook

    A 96-page "how to" manual on getting the most out of the college years, the Student Handbook gives students practical options for handling difficult situations such as dealing with pressures to drink alcohol and use drugs, adjusting to your first year, performing academically, taking care of your physical health, as well as maintaining healthy relationships at school and at home. The recommendations are based on the real-life experiences of college students who succeeded in similar situations. The handbook encourages them to examine their past, their current coping mechanisms, understand their own risks for addiction, and most importantly, to plan for the future.

    79% of students who read the handbook plan to talk about it with a friend; 31% were motivated to join a support group and 66% to contact one of the resources listed.

  3. Self-Guided Training Curriculum: Six Modules for On-campus Staff:
    1. Basic Overview of the Impact of Family Addiction
    2. Communication and Intervention for Non-Clinical Staff
    3. Identification and Assessment Tools for Counselors
    4. Talking with High Risk Students
    5. Understanding Cultural Differences
    6. Fostering Resiliency

    These six ready-to-use training modules give on-campus staff the tools to support students from addicted families. Each module includes a step-by-step facilitator's guide, overhead masters, and handouts for participants.

    The modules are easily facilitated by qualified personnel and can be customized to provide a training program to meet your college or university's needs. Staff who will benefit from the workshops include: health services, counseling / psychological services, student affairs, athletics, faculty, administration, peer educators and resident advisors.

    The campus staff who field tested the workshops agreed that the content was highly relevant to their work and that it had many practical applications. Test results showed significant gains in knowledge about multicultural issues, communication skills and understanding of resiliency. 85% of the training participants would recommend the workshops to a colleague.

    Resources included in the training curriculum:

On-site or regional training available: The Children of Alcoholics Foundation is also pleased to offer on-site or shared, regional trainings for those who would like to have the workshops presented by one of our team members. These trainings would be customized and priced according to your needs. Please call Cheryl Bobe, COAF's Manager of Training and Program, for further information.

A sample kit of the Options program (which includes a poster, booklet, handbook, and wallet card) is available at no cost upon request by fax, postal mail, or email to the COAF address below.

For costs of the Options program components, contact the address below or check out their website at http://WWW.COAF.ORG/npul.htm

Children of Alcoholics Foundation
33 West 60th Street - 5th floor
New York, NY 10023

phone: 212-757-2100 ext. 6370
fax: 212-757-2208
email: coaf@phoenixhouse.org

Andrew Phillips - Director
Cheryl Bobe - Manager of Training & Program
Naomi Weinstein - Manager of Public Education

The Children of Alcoholics Foundation (COAF) is a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to breaking the inter-generational cycle of addiction in families. COAF provides free information and referral through its HelpLink service at 800-359- COAF (2623). It develops materials for the public, as well as curricula and trainings for professionals in education, social service and health care.

The Children of Alcoholics Foundation is an affiliate of Phoenix House, the nation's leading non-profit substance abuse service organization. Phoenix House provides treatment for more than 3,000 adolescents and adults through residential and outpatient programs in Texas, New York, New Jersey and California. Founded in 1967, Phoenix House has treated more than 70,000 people -- saving lives and strengthening families and communities.

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