Gauchos for Recovery Provide Student Resource for Overcoming Substance Abuse


Bailee Abell
Staff Writer

While college is a place for discovery, new knowledge, and future career goals, partying seems to be inevitable–and the University of California, Santa Barbara is no exception to this trend. Every weekend, a mob of students flock to the beachside community of Isla Vista, often in search of alcohol and drugs. This party atmosphere can result in the abuse of and eventual addiction to some of these substances. Many young adults fall victim to the craze, unaware that an unhealthy dependency may ensue. Thankfully, UCSB’s Drug and Alcohol Program provides resources for students who are seeking to recover from substance abuse and addiction.

Established in fall of 2012, Gauchos for Recovery is a student-run organization whose mission is to “provide a safe, supportive, and fun environment for students in recovery from addiction to substances and addictive behaviors,” according to the group’s Facebook page. With the support of a staff supervisor through UCSB’s Alcohol and Drug Program, the organization is led by three students who are in recovery themselves, called “Recovery Peer Interns.”

“Our goal is to carry a message of hope from the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction,” said Robert Bitsko, a Recovery Peer Intern. “We hope to get the word out to the UCSB community that if someone is struggling with addiction, that they are not alone, that there is a solution.”

“All I can share is my own experience, which is that drinking and drug use overcame everything else that was important to me…friends, family, school,” said Bitsko.

In light of his own struggle with addictions, Bitsko sought help and became involved with Gauchos for Recovery after transferring to UCSB last year. Since then, he has moved into a leadership position this past fall. Alongside fellow fourth-years Cassandra Nielsen and Douglas Salyers, Bitsko leads 12-step recovery meetings held every Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Embarcadero Hall, where students in all stages of recovery can gather in an environment free of judgement.

“Our hope as a group [is to] showcase to UCSB students that there is another way, a solution, to those who are concerned about their substance abuse” said Bitsko.

The organization also holds several events throughout the year, the most recent of which being a screening of “The Anonymous People,” a feature film about the 23.5 million Americans living in long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol and the emerging recovery movement. The film was screened on Tuesday, Feb. 18, in IV Theater.

“Within the UCSB community, and society at large, there seems to be a stigma in regards to both substance abuse and sobriety,” said Bitsko. “This film shows that for those people in recovery, chiefly in such organizations as 12-step programs, recovery is in fact a very real movement.”

Additionally, there is a recovery lounge located in Embarcadero Hall, open weekday afternoons, that provides students with a place to study or socialize in a substance-free space.

As described by Bitsko, the success of Gauchos for Recovery “is measured on an individual basis—if just one student can see that sobriety and recovery is possible here at UCSB, then I couldn’t ask for anything more.”