Support group helps students live with addiction

Andy Monserud

Sober at Whitman, a support group for Whitman community members struggling with addiction, recently began its second year on campus. Started last year by Interim Provost and Dean of Faculty Pat Spencer and Alumnus Riley Clubb ‘09, the group aims to bring students, faculty, staff and other members of the Whitman community with drug and alcohol issues together on a weekly basis.



Alcohol is the primary focus of Sober at Whitman, but the group is not intended to be exclusionary. It serves anyone with addictive relationships to alcohol or drugs. The group was founded on the belief that conversations between addicts are the best way to stay sober.

“You know what the other folks around the table are facing,” says Associate Professor of Astronomy and General Studies Andrea Dobson, who helps run the group’s meetings.

The group has no affiliation with national or international sobriety groups like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, and doesn’t follow any particular philosophy or method for sobriety. Group discussions are largely casual and unstructured.

“We just talk,” said Dobson. “[We’ll ask questions like] ‘What are the challenges that maybe have arisen in the last week? What challenges might you anticipate? If there’s some trip coming up or something, or you’re headed home for break, what kinds of challenges might you expect?'”

It’s from this sense of community, trust and mutual understanding that Sober at Whitman gets its effectiveness. Members may call one another if they need help, talk through pros and cons of attending a party or devise other strategies to avoiding drinking.

Clubb has struggled with alcoholism and is familiar with some of the social difficulties presented by sobriety.

“[Sobriety can be] pretty weird for a lot of people,” he said in an e-mail. “It took me several years of knowing that I had a drinking problem and wishing something would change before I finally became willing to just surrender and ask for help. I was afraid that sobriety was going to mean a boring life of exclusion from fun things with my friends. [But] since getting sober, I have had more fun times with friends, dancing at weddings, watching football games at bars, laughing with my family … In short, sobriety gives addicts the chance to finally experience life, and that is the greatest gift of .”

For a lot of people, simply acknowledging the problem can be tough.

“You have to decide for yourself that it’s out of control,” says Dobson. “It’s not like diabetes or something where you can do a blood test or something and say yes you are or no you’re not, which is one of the things that makes it slippery, particularly for young people, because you may be thinking ‘Well I’m not sure whether I’m actually an alcoholic. I don’t know is it just a college age thing?'”

Clubb recommends a policy of awareness and attention when evaluating one’s own relationship with alcohol or drugs.

“If you listen to other alcoholics and addicts talk about their experiences, their thoughts, their actions and their feelings, and if you relate to what they are saying, then there is a pretty good chance you need to keep listening,” he said in an e-mail. “If you suspect you might have a drinking problem, or you may even be an addict or an alcoholic, then give me a shout and we can talk about it.”