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Changing the Treatment Industry with Higher Education

Changing the Treatment Industry with Higher Education


When I was 19 I had my first look at recovery. As recommended by the Penn State office of student conduct, I met with the Program Coordinator of the Collegiate Recovery Community in University Park, Jason Whitney. He talked about his recovery and how he got sober when he was 19 at the University of Colorado. I related to him, but decided that I wasn’t ready to give up drugs and alcohol.

“I scheduled classes by myself over a payphone in rehab.”

A few months later I knew that it was time to enter treatment. My life was a mess and I was one step away from total wipe out. I was finally ready to get sober. I made a phone call to Jason and he told me that my best days in college were still to come.

I remember emailing professors and academic advisors on my way to rehab. I was using my dad’s laptop and tethering internet off of his phone in the back seat of the car. I was entering treatment for 30 days and the semester started in 20. I understood that I was not going back to main campus that semester, but had a plan to take some online classes through Penn State World Campus. Jason told me all the right people to email so he could work on my behalf.

I got a lot out of the treatment center I went to. It was reputable and I could relate to the counselors. They helped me identify the problem and reconnect with my family. It was what they didn’t do that is concerning.

I was a 20 year old kid who had managed to not fail out of Penn State’s College of Information Science and Technology at University Park while battling a serious substance use disorder. My GPA was not great, but it wasn’t completely destroyed. I knew that drugs and alcohol were holding me back in my academics. I had career goals that were dependent on degrees and transcripts. I entered treatment with the idea that I could get sober and be a part of the Collegiate Recovery Community at Penn State.

No one in my rehab knew of the Collegiate Recovery Community at Penn State. No one in my rehab thought that enrolling in classes was a good idea. My parents allowed me to enroll in classes against the advice of my treatment provider. I scheduled classes by myself over a payphone in rehab. Jason had debriefed my advisor and she accommodated me. It was a consensus that I should not take college classes in early sobriety, that I should take some time off.


My mom dropped off my textbooks a week later. I read through them a bit. The rehab that I was in forbid me from using a computer, so I was forced to start my classes 10 days late.

That advice baffled my parents. I was a high achieving 20 year old. Why would they want to take me out of school? They knew that putting my life on hold was not a smart move. They agreed that I should enter aftercare, but no school? The advice seemed ridiculous.

That’s because it is ridiculous.

I was on my own when it came to strategically planning my academics with my recovery. I decided on 12 credits through Penn State World Campus. I got a job, then a better job. I completed PHP, IOP, and OP. I made dean’s list for the first time that semester.

Next came the transition back to University Park. My outpatient counselor was not thrilled about me going back to a “party school.” I explained to him and my parents that it didn’t matter where I was. I used drugs the same way in my home town that I did while I was away at college. I could get drugs and alcohol anywhere.

“The idea of going back to college in early sobriety was natural to him because he watched students do it every day. ”

The only person along the entire spectrum of care that did not completely push back when I talked about going back to Penn State Main Campus was Jason Whitney. He kept up with me and my parents the whole way. He told me good days to come up and visit. He introduced me to other students in recovery. He matched me with a roommate who had four years of sobriety. The idea of going back to college in early sobriety was natural to him because he watched students do it every day. How could everyone the spectrum of my treatment cringe at something that seemed so natural to Jason?

The problem is the one size fits all model that treatment centers use. There seems to be some unspoken consensus that young people should put their life on hold when they get sober. To me, there is no logic to applying this to someone who is passionate about their education and career path. What motivation is there to get sober and go to rehab if it means you have to drop out of college?

I graduate college on time with two degrees at the age of 22 on May 9th, 2015. I was the president of the Penn State Collegiate Recovery Community at Penn State this year. I was a 2014 Campus Transformer Honoree. I worked as a teaching assistant at Penn State at four months sober. I started a successful company when I was ten months sober. I will be joining Life of Purpose full time in one week.

I am proud to join the Life of Purpose team because the Life of Purpose model is saving the lives and futures of people who are exactly like I was. Not everyone has a set of parents who are willing to go against the advice of their child’s treatment provider and allow them to go back to school. Not everyone has a Jason Whitney that is willing to go above and beyond to do everything in their power to ensure that a Penn State Student seeking recovery can get back to school. I was lucky, very lucky.


Collegiate Recovery Programs are popping up all over the nation. According to the Association of recovery in Higher Education, the national relapse average is 5%, which means that approximately 95% of the students who participate in these programs, maintain their recovery. If you have ever heard a relapse statistic before, you might think that this one is made up. I can attest to it though. Students who are active in the CRC at Penn State stay sober. We live together. We hang out together. We take classes together. We motivate each other. We travel together. We graduate together. We provide a resource where college is better sober.

Life of Purpose is the new age of young adult addiction treatment in this country.  They provide Academically Focused Substance Use Disorder Treatment.  They do not ask young adults with substance use issues to choose between their recovery and their education.  They empower them.  They help them graduate high school, enroll in universities with Collegiate Recovery Programs, trade schools, Master’s programs.  They encourage them to build a life of purpose and meaning.  A life worth staying sober for.



James Hatzell

Director of Technology
Life of Purpose Treatment
3848 FAU Boulevard, Suite 100
Boca Raton, FL 33431
Admissions: 1.888.PURPOSE

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Awesome story! Thanks for sharing, and thanks for modeling for all of us how to work through life’s adversities. (Your parents sound pretty awesome, too!)

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