Gauchos for Recovery (GFR), which provides free recovery support for substance addiction and other addictive behaviors, recently expanded to meet increasing demand for its services and soaring attendance rates at weekly meetings.

Lianna Nakashima / Daily Nexus

In 2017, there was a 50 percent increase in attendance for weekly Students for Recovery 12-step open meetings, according to Angie Bryan, the GFR Recovery Program Manager.

In response, GFR ​announced three new support groups for students and community members recovering from addiction. The new S.M.A.R.T. Recovery meeting and Graduate/Non-Traditional Student 12-step meeting diversify the organization’s approach, allowing for students with different paths and a more cognitive method of addressing addiction.

GFR also began hosting an Alanon meeting for family members and loved ones affected by people with substance use disorders, who are either working or not working toward recovery.

Bryan founded GFR in the fall of 2012 after working in the UCSB Alcohol and Drug Program as a marriage and family therapist.

After researching other campus-based collegiate recovery programs, Bryan found a similar program at Texas Tech University, which provided grants through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for replication programs on other campuses.

“I’ve been in long-term recovery for 13 years so this is something that I was really interested in,” Bryan said. “So [SAMHSA] paid for me to go out there and see their program and see how we might start it here.”

The Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness Department agreed to contribute start-up funding for GFR after Bryan met someone within the department who “happened to be in long-term recovery also.”

According to Bryan, UCSB is the only UC that has an Alcohol and Drug Program. The program has been around for nearly 10 years, which Bryan said shows that the university already recognizes that support is needed. She believes recovery fit naturally into the campus services.

“We’ve been very lucky here because UCSB administration has always been really supportive of this program,” Bryan said.

“The 18-25 age group is the fastest growing number of people going for treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. So we’re seeing a lot more students coming to college already in recovery or students getting into recovery while in college,” Bryan said.

At the start of the program, there were less than 10 people in attendance, and now at least a few dozen show up for meetings, according to fourth-year physics major and peer-intern Noah Shachar.

“So nationally it’s a huge trend that we’re seeing, which is why there’s over 100 schools across the country that have some form of collegiate recovery support,” Bryan said. “We’re definitely one of the leaders in the country in development and what we have to offer here in our program.”

GFR also hosts “sober events” for students to get out of I.V., including two camping trips a year, as well as “unity events,” Shachar said.
The camping trips are organized in Spring Quarter around Deltopia and in Fall Quarter around Halloween. Bryan said these trips provide students alternative spaces when Isla Vista “isn’t a recovery-friendly environment.”

“Nobody is mandated to come to our program; it’s all people that want our support on a voluntary basis,” Bryan said.

Advocacy work helps change campus culture and reduce the stigma that a person in recovery is a “stereotypical addict,” Shachar and Bryan agreed.

“When we use the term ‘person in recovery’ it sounds like someone that is trying to make some changes and are goal-oriented toward recovery… Someone in recovery is constantly in recovery and constantly improving upon themselves,” Shachar said. “We’re here to show people that you can start doing that at any time, at any age, in any situation — if that’s what you want.”

GFR just ended its last year in contract with the county Behavioral and Wellness department because of policy changes. It is uncertain where funding will come from next year. However, Bryan said she is not worried because of support from the university and acquired grants.

“I’m trying to trust that things will happen because so far in developmental programs that’s just how things work,” Bryan said. “Right when we think something isn’t going to work, something always comes out of the work, and we go from there.”

A version of this article appeared on p.3 of the Feb. 15 print edition of the Daily Nexus.

Correction: A support group mentioned in this article was referred to as “Alcoholics Anonymous” and has been modified to its correct name, “Alanon meeting.”