Troubled Students Find Safe Passage and a Second Chance with Summer Wilderness Program

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Parents of college students struggling with their new-found freedom by drinking and using drugs find hope in summer wilderness therapy program designed to help these young adults rediscover their priorities.

Summer vacation means fun, sun and a chance to escape the stresses of school and social pressure, but for a rising number of young adults it can also exacerbate an ongoing struggle with alcohol or drugs. That's why the Utah-based Passages to Recovery is combining outdoor adventure and substance abuse treatment in a program specifically designed to address the needs and interests of young adults and their families.

Large amounts of free time and the stress of increased time spent with family (especially after experiencing the independence of a college environment) are just two of the issues that can trigger increased substance use among teens and young college students, explains Passages to Recovery executive director Trilby Hoover, who notes that drunk-driving and substance abuse related accidents statistically increase during holidays and school vacations.

Using outdoor challenges and wilderness experiences, Passages to Recovery helps students address and overcome their substance abuse issues before they reach drastic proportions.

"A lot of 18-22 year olds don't necessarily have a full-blown drinking or drug problem but they have experienced one or two incidents and they are beginning to suffer from declining grades and focus," Hoover explains.

"Because they're problem users rather than alcoholics or addicts, they're not yet too heavily entrenched in the substance abuse cycle. The wilderness experience gives them the chance to enjoy a healthy start by getting their priorities back on track and acquiring the personal skills necessary for maintaining a healthy, sober lifestyle."

Now in its fifth year, the program is so effective that former students often return during the summer to serve as counselors and mentors to new enrollees.

"Coming back to work for Passages to Recovery has been such an incredible experience," says Laura, 23, a returning counselor. "There are no words to describe [the feeling of satisfaction] that comes from watching a student's face light up when I tell them that I've sat exactly where they're sitting – and they can see how far I've come."

James, 22, agrees with Laura, and credits his own wilderness experience at Passages as life-changing: "I found an amazing connection out here, [and] I love to share it with those who seek it," he enthuses.

Trilby Hoover also credits the program's success rate with the fact that students love the hands-on, experiential approach to treatment. "Young people are active and kinesthetic; they don't want to sit and have a cognitive experience [like that seen in conventional treatment facilities]. The reality is that conventional treatment centers don't like to work with young adults because they are so much work, but we love them. It's such a dynamic age and they are so easy to motivate."

Integrating the philosophy of traditional 12-step recovery with traditional therapy and the healing power of wilderness experience, the Passages to Recovery program combines comprehensive clinical assessment and treatment with an individualized, multi-phase treatment plan. The highlight – and key – to each plan is the completion of a multi-day wilderness experience.

"During the wilderness experience students learn the skills essential to a sober lifestyle," states Hoover. "We offer a particular focus on self-care by teaching students how to set up camp for themselves – planning to maintain comfort in varied conditions, identifying an appropriately sheltered site -- it's a lesson that teaches the importance of planning, awareness and decision-making: fundamental skills for a healthy, sober lifestyle."

"Overall, the program is designed to help students understand that what they might see as a failure is simply a challenge – then we give them the tools to address that challenge," Hoover adds. "Living out in the wilderness, students discover that they can navigate when they get lost and they can push through challenge to success."

Passages to Recovery is a unique twelve-step substance abuse treatment program designed to stimulate a spiritual awakening within a wilderness experience. It includes responsible and comprehensive clinical care and assessment. More information about Passages to Recovery is available at or by calling 1-866-625-8809.


Vera Appleyard



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