UT Austin to offer sober dorm for students in recovery

Roommates in recovery advocate for more resources to help students find sober roommates
Roommates in recovery advocate for more resources to help students find sober roommates. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Starting college can be challenging for any student, but it’s a lot tougher for a student fighting addiction. It’s a reality for some at the University of Texas at Austin, and right now there’s no official program connecting people in recovery with sober roommates.

“We know students do best when they’re supported in their recovery,” said Sierra Castedo, Director of The Center for Students in Recovery (CSR) at UT Austin.

Castedo says if students can find their own roommate who is sober, they can request them through housing. She encourages incoming students to engage with the community and CSR to get connected with a sober roommate.

Starting next fall, they’re taking a big step in making that process even easier, designating a section of Moore-Hill Hall as sober living.

“It’s definitely ideal for students in recovery, students are asked to be substance-free. And it’s also going to be pretty beneficial for students who are maybe in mental health recovery, or maybe an eating disorder recovery. Or maybe they just choose not to use substances,” said Castedo.

It’s going to be called the Healthy Lifestyles Living Learning Community, giving first-year students the experience of living in residence halls. They’ll be starting small at first, with just 12 spots.

“They’ll be involved in activities outside of school that are conducive to their recovery or their overall wellness, whatever it is that they’re in that community for. And they’ll have close ties to The Center for Students in Recovery as well.”

Online platforms like My Sober Roommate and Roommates in Sobriety are also trying to fill the gap, helping people in recovery connect with one another.

My Sober Roommate launched this June and is available in Texas. The platform helps people connect anonymously, and they can later share more information if they’re comfortable. Jesse Sandler created the platform and tells KXAN that their largest demographic is people ages 18-25; however, you don’t have to be in college to utilize it.

Austin native Paden Kelley is a recovered heroin addict and alcoholic. He says resources like this are a lifeline for people in recovery.

“Any resource that is available whatsoever is extremely important because chemically and physically speaking, the way that my brain operates as an alcoholic and addict is the odds are stacked against me to achieve sobriety.”

Kelley first started using substances in high school and continued in college. He played football for the University of Texas, but his career was cut short as a result of his addiction. When he stopped playing football, he started using heroin.

“At the climax of my drug habit, it was a $300 a day drug habit. I would get sick almost every day,” said Kelley. “Didn’t leave the house much, didn’t have any friends.”

He withdrew from school several times. When he finally got sober for six months, UT gave him a second chance.

“When I first got sober I didn’t know anyone that was sober, I never had any sober friends,” said Kelley.

He got into a sober living home, which was critical for his continued recovery. Now sober for over two years, Kelley lives in an apartment with a sober roommate.

He hopes to send a message that sobriety is possible.

“I didn’t’ think it was an option. I didn’t think me, not using drugs or alcohol, was even a thing. I didn’t know it was something I was capable of, I thought It was who I was,” said Kelley.

The Center for Students in Recovery is open to all UT Austin students, as well as students from other schools like ACC and St. Edwards.

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