Sam Randall speaking

Recovery is a unique experience. Many people enter recovery because they’ve struggled with alcohol or drug use. Some have experienced other mental health concerns including depression, anxiety or eating disorders. Others have confronted compulsive behaviors related to sex, relationships, gambling, exercise, work or technology. The moral of this story: there is no one size fits all when it comes to recovery.

Sam Randall, program manager at the CU Collegiate Recovery Center (CUCRC), is here to dive into what recovery is and how you can best support those around you who are living a life in recovery.

What the recovery process looks like

The recovery process varies depending on each person’s physical and mental health condition and history, emotional and social support and the type of change someone wants to make in their life.

For some, recovery is a natural process. The realization that things aren’t going well or that something needs to change fuels the decision to make changes and seek out support. When this is the case, it can help to have encouragement from friends and family or to talk with a counselor about how to change old patterns and reinforce positive changes. This type of recovery is often called “natural recovery”.

For others, recovery is a more intense and ongoing process. Maintaining recovery can be difficult, especially if someone is not able to reduce or stop their behaviors (drinking, using, etc.) even when they want to.

Life in recovery

We will be using recovery from a substance use disorder as an example.

For many, staying abstinent from drugs and alcohol is a big part of recovery. It enables the brain to heal and stay healthy and addresses some of the biological aspects of addiction. It also allows the person to focus on psychological and social dimensions that may be involved.

For others, moderation of use may be doable when combined with self-awareness and a good support system. It’s important to note, though, this can be risky for some. If moderation doesn’t work well, abstinence may be the best option.

Many people find that peer support is an important factor in their recovery, whether it’s through friends or recovery support meetings and sober communities. Peer support provides an opportunity to connect with others who can relate, feel motivated to continue recovery, learn new coping skills and provide support for lifestyle changes.

In addition to peer support, many also work with a mental health counselor, addiction counselor or psychiatrist, to help address deeper biological and psychosocial roadblocks. Others may go through more intensive treatment that may include detoxification and inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment. These options provide an opportunity to safely stabilize and begin the process of recovery. CUCRC provides students the opportunity to get help outside of the university and return to CU after treatment in order to continue their education.

Eventually, many people find that they are living a new normal and have a fulfilling, healthy life as a person in long-term recovery. Maintaining recovery can take many forms including attending recovery support meetings, checking in with a supportive friend or seeing a counselor for ongoing therapy. It’s also important to find moments of fun through the recovery process, discover new ways to connect and feel a sense of purpose in life.

How to support a friend in recovery

If your friend is currently in recovery, support them through the process. For instance, if you’re out with friends, help them find a non-alcoholic drink without making a big deal of it.

Find activities you can do together that don’t involve substances. While some people do okay with social use, it may be difficult for others. If many of your social activities involve substances, and your friend is in recovery or trying to stay sober, it can mean a lot if you offer to do something else with them instead.

Offer to go with your friend to a recovery meeting as a support person. It can be scary to walk into a meeting when you’re newly sober or don’t know anyone, so having a friend there can help. Even if it’s not their first meeting, you can be supportive by learning more about recovery.

Trust in your friend. If they say they don’t want to drink or use, believe them. Tell them you’ll be there to support them. It takes courage for them to say it out loud, so be sure to affirm your friend’s decision.


There are a variety of support resources on and off campus for someone who might be struggling. From support meetings on campus to workshops, student groups and substance-free community events, there are a number of options for anyone looking for support.

  • The CU Collegiate Recovery Center (CUCRC) provides support for students in recovery from substance use disorders or other addictive behaviors. CUCRC serves as a welcoming space for those who are in recovery or living a substance-free lifestyle. There are a variety of programming options available including weekly support meetings, sober housing and more. Join a community of students who can relate and offer support. CUCRC is located in UMC 414.

  • Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers confidential mental health services for students, including workshop and therapy groups, individual counseling and psychiatric care.

  • Health Promotion offers an Exploring Substance Use Workshop for students to explore their relationship with substance use and discuss ways to improve their university experience. All levels of substance use and non-use are welcome.

  • Sober Buffs is a group of students who like to have fun without alcohol and drugs for a variety of reasons and are supported by the CUCRC. They host sober social events throughout the year, including pool parties, bowling, game nights, football tailgates and more.

  • There are also free, peer-based recovery support groups available in the community, including 12-step programs (AA, NA, etc.), SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Life Ring, Women for Sobriety, Phoenix Multisport and more.

About the expert

Sam Randall is the program manager for the Collegiate Recovery Center at CU Boulder and serves on the board of the Association of Recovery in Higher Education. She has worked in the field of addiction and recovery for 10 years and as an educator and mentor for over 20 years.

Having started her own recovery while at a major university, Randall is passionate about building a culture in higher education that supports recovery and well-being. She also leads creative, interactive presentations that challenge the social stigma often attached to mental health conditions and recovery and increase the likelihood that others will get help when they need it.

When not sharing about how awesome recovery is, Randall is usually out backpacking in the wilderness. She also is trained as an architect, which explains why the CU Collegiate Recovery Center has such great lighting.