Construction management junior Patrick Driscoll can occasionally be found a Fred’s in Tigerland, but more frequently, he is shooting pool at Clicks Billiards on Corporate Boulevard. Either way, he’ll have a Coca-Cola with a lime to keep from drawing attention to himself.
“Countless times I’ve been there and met girls,” Driscoll said. “And eventually it comes up when they go to buy me a shot or something I’ll say, ‘No, I’m in recovery.’”
On Jan. 21, 2012, Driscoll had been living in his truck for five months with no phone, no one to talk to and one set of clothes he wore every day.
His addiction started with prescription drugs years before and escalated to heroin and cocaine.
Driscoll first attended college in his hometown of Philadelphia. He was kicked out after one month with a blood alcohol level of .34 — more than four times the legal limit and dangerously close to comatose.
The next four years of building bridges for a construction firm were marked with hard labor, heavy drug use and numerous trips to rehab.
After six failed attempts to detox, his parents stopped supporting their son financially. Driscoll had nowhere to turn.
“One day I was in my truck, and I had two guns,” Driscoll said. “My real intention was to shoot some drug dealer, and on my way there my truck broke down.”
At that moment, Driscoll said his life came to a crossroad.
“I looked toward where my parents were living, and there were blue skies with the sun coming through the clouds, then I looked the way I was going — to the drug dealer — and there was thunder and lightning, pouring rain,” Driscoll said. “I stood there and basically just said, ‘I’m done.’”
After treatment, Driscoll was referred to a halfway house in Gonzales, Louisiana, where he spent 8 months before returning to home to Philadelphia to begin college. He then came back to Baton Rouge to complete his degree at LSU.
Now, 24 years old and nearly four years sober, Driscoll is one of many students at LSU going through college in recovery.
Though the stereotypical college life might seem to be at odds with a sober lifestyle, Driscoll said it’s actually “pretty easy” at LSU.
Hank*, a food science senior, also attempted college, but fell into addiction before coming to LSU.
He started smoking marijuana at 12 years old and soon got hooked on the prescription drug Oxycontin.
“I just thought my life was going to be like a Hunter S. Thompson novel,” Hank said. “That’s what I thought for the first little bit — wacky adventures with my lawyer.”
Hank’s parents had other plans. Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, they sent Hank to St. Christopher’s Addiction Wellness Center in Baton Rouge, a long-term treatment facility, where he stayed for a year and a half.
But his treatment didn’t stick. With the intention of going to school, Hank said he moved to Baltimore where he got hooked on heroin.
Hank, now 24, said it was “necessity” that got him clean. A drug arrest in Baltimore sent him back to Baton Rouge, where he knew he had a support group from his days at “St. Chris.”
“I didn’t want to go to jail — that was a really good motivator,” he said. “I guess what was different from before was a little bit of age, a little I had no other options.”
Hank moved into a sober living facility, “busted his ass” to meet LSU’s minimum admission requirements and is now two and a half years sober.
He said he knows his lifestyle is not that of a typical college student.
“They are party schools,” Hank said. “In Louisiana in general, it’s a socially acceptable form of recreation, and some people who probably fit the description of alcoholism don’t see any disparity.”
Hank typically avoids the bar scene. He has a “purebred adorable” dog, Jeffrey, and an on-campus job at the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator.
“It’s when you start facing consequences from that, and then you continue to do what you know is ultimately going to be a bad idea that separates the heavy drinkers from the alcoholics,” he said.
John*, 28, is a licensed clinical social worker who graduated from LSU with a master’s degree in 2014. He is nearly 8 years sober.
When he got caught stealing from his family at 21 years old to finance his habit, it was rehab or jail.
“I just wasn’t going anywhere,” John said. “Life wasn’t good. I was having seizures and withdrawal symptoms, killing myself pretty much.”
But even then, he was worried sobering up would make him boring.
“It’s a myth,” he says now. “Nobody knew any differently. A lot of people think when you’re in college, you’re going to get offered drugs left and right.”
As a graduate student, John said, the culture around drinking was different from what an undergraduate might experience.
He remembers a celebratory get-together at Red Zeppelin Pizza after he and his classmates finished their final tests before earning their master’s degrees.
“They all ordered pitchers of beer to celebrate, and I just ordered a Diet Coke and no one even tempted me,” John said. “Half the people there didn’t even know I was in recovery.”
It was his own run-in with addiction that shaped his career path.
After switching his major from accounting to social work, John began to recognize his own habits in those around him and wanted to help.
“I would see people who would come into class hungover or stoned. Just people I could see who probably had the same problem as me,” John said. “You wish you could help them, but they weren’t really ready.”
He now works at Power House, the same inpatient residential program for drug-addicted men between the ages of 17 and 25 in Gonzales that he graduated from in 2009.
Living in Recovery
Though all three men have different ways of avoiding their vices, there are a few consistencies.
They all subscribe to the “disease philosophy,” which means they will continue to receive “treatment” for the rest of their lives.
“Basically, it is a disease that will kill you, just like cancer, and you have to take your chemo,” John said. “You have to take your medicine, which is going to meetings and helping other people out, talking to people and asking for help.”
Both Hank and Driscoll are single-minded in degree pursuits, having partied enough in their past lives to make sure nothing gets in the way of graduating, finding a job and starting a family.
Though LSU, like many SEC schools, is known for its party-hard tailgating style and is tossed around online as one of the top party schools in the country, Hank said college students who think they might have a problem should take comfort in this transitional period of their lives.
When students make mistakes in college, they might be big enough to set them back but won’t jeopardize their jobs or families, Hank said.
He doesn’t see himself as a student trying to stay sober. Instead he is sober, which allows him to be a student.
But all three men said the most important part is remembering their network of support.
“The thing that made it easy, the key factor, is there are other guys that go [to LSU] that are
sober just like me,” John said.
Though some might think a sober future is missing out, Hank said he can now be involved in his friends’ and family’s lives.
“In those occasions where you normally drink, I now get to be a part of that, as opposed to sleeping in my car because I have no money because I spent it all on dope,” Hank said.
Options at LSU
As September, also known as Recovery Month, comes to a close, LSU is strengthening its efforts to become more recovery-friendly.
The Louisiana Center Addressing Substance Use is an outgrowth of the LSU’s A Matter of Degree Program, which began in the fall of 1998 after the alcohol-related death of LSU student Benjamin Wynne.
Recently, LaCASU was awarded $10,000 by Transforming Youth Recovery to make LSU a Collegiate Recovery Center.
It’s collaboration with all areas of campus, including Residential Life, the Student Health Center, LSUPD and Disability Services, aims to create individual paths for students with recovery related issues.
LSU will join 135 other CRCs and become the first in Louisiana to create “a nurturing affirming environment in which individuals recovering from addictive disorders can find peer support while obtaining a college education,” LaCASU Associate Director Allison Smith said, quoting information from the Texas Tech Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery.
LaCASU also collaborates with Recovery First Tailgaters, which is free and open to all students every gameday.
Though LSU provides a space for Alcoholics Anonymous to meet Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. in the Orleans Room of the Student Union, Smith said students started a separate group called Student Organization for Support.
While AA is completely anonymous and separate from the university, Smith said the LaCASU office received calls from people who wanted help as students.
The student organization will help LaCASU fulfill that role without compromising AA’s independence and anonymity, Smith said.
“Basically, the idea is that students in recovery should not have to chose between education and recovery,” Smith said. “And that is an idea we 100 percent support.”
*Editor’s Note: Hank and John’s last names were withheld to preserve anonymity.