Recovering Hope


Kennesaw State center responds to growing number of students battling addictions From the vantage…

Georgia (Nov 9, 2011)

Kennesaw State center responds to growing number of students battling addictions

From the vantage point of Katherine Davidson’s early teen years, graduating in 2011 from KSU with a bachelor’s degree in psychology was even more far-fetched than living to her 18th birthday.

After several relapses during treatment for anorexia, the eating disorder she describes as an addiction that began when she was 12, Davidson said going to college “just didn’t seem like something I could do.” Persevering in her commitment to recovery, however, she finished Kennesaw Mountain High School and applied to only one college.

Choosing KSU turned out to be a milestone on Davidson’s path to recovery, which in 2007 intersected with the university’s newly established Collegiate Recovery Center, since renamed the Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery (CYAAR).

Based on a model program at Texas Tech University, KSU’s center helps students struggling with and recovering from addiction. It provides education and prevention services for the campus community and collaborates with faculty, academic departments and community organizations to conduct research into young adult addiction, treatment and recovery. The center includes the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC), which provides students in recovery from alcohol, drug, food and other addictions with individual attention, group meetings, academic advisement and support. The center’s Alcohol and Other Drugs initiative provides evidence-based prevention education for those who are addicted and those at risk.

A week before moving into her residence hall, Davidson reached her goal weight, a condition of her therapy. Early in her freshman year, she attended a forum on eating disorders presented by CYAAR and the KSU Wellness Center, where she was surprised to see her therapist on the panel. She also met Teresa Johnston, the CYAAR’s director and a licensed professional counselor.

Davidson worked with Johnston to start a campus chapter of ANAD, the national association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. By spring semester, she was leading a weekly peer group session for KSU students struggling with eating disorders, and eventually became certified as a peer health educator. During her sophomore year, she continued recovery in weekly CRC group sessions and prevention activities and earned one of three scholarships funded by William S. and Betsey B. Duffey for KSU students in recovery.

KSU was prime to become the first higher education institution in the Southeast to establish a center devoted to young adult addiction and recovery because of the growing need on campus and surrounding community, according to Johnston, who also teaches a learning community for first-year students who either have a need or an interest in addiction and recovery.

Using calculations based on a national model, Johnston estimates that some 300 KSU students need recovery services. The CRC began with three students in 2008. During spring 2011, it served 46 students, one-half of whom said they attended KSU because it provides an addiction recovery support program.

“We’re becoming a destination campus for local students in recovery, largely due to word-of-mouth and a very active therapeutic community in the Cobb County area,” Johnston said. “The center is an acknowledgement that culturally addiction is a big problem. We can address it by masking the problem and pretending that it doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t advance knowledge and help make it safe for students with addictions.”

For Katherine Davidson, now 23 and hoping to earn a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas in Austin, the safety and support provided by the CRC allowed her to heal and thrive.

“When you have school work, studying, tests, working parttime, it’s very difficult to stay in recovery if you don’t have a regular support group,” she said. “It made all the difference in my recovery. I feel amazing.”

Supporting recovery

If the movement to firmly establish addiction recovery communities on college campuses were a relay race, Teresa Johnston, director of KSU’s Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery (CYAAR), would be among the front runners. Taking up the mantle from colleagues at the pioneering Texas Tech University’s Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery, Johnston has forged ahead in the race to promote addiction recovery and support for college students. 

With the exponential growth of KSU’s collegiate recovery community and the addition of alcohol and drug education and intervention services, the CYAAR  is poised to become a national model and a resource for research into young adult addiction and recovery. 

Johnston also is a major contributor to an effort to institutionalize addiction and recovery services throughout higher education.  In July, she co-facilitated the first meeting of the executive board of the Association for Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE), which supports addiction recovery communities at 20 campuses nationwide, with several more poised to open next year.

In addition, KSU will host more than 250 scholars, practitioners, administrators, staff and students at the 3rd annual National Collegiate Recovery and Relapse Prevention Conference in March 2012. 

“There is a great momentum, even from the federal government, to make certain that young people with addictions get the services and support they need in an academic setting,” Johnston said. “KSU students in recovery are given the opportunity to build community, sustain their recovery and progress in their academics one semester at a time, one day at a time and one person at a time. It’s a race worth winning.”


-- Sabbaye McGriff

Click here for more information about KSU's Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery


Katherine Davidson, left,  talks with Teresa Johnston, director of the Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery on the KSU campus.



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit