Seeking sobriety amidst a culture of parties and drugs
IU students share their struggles to remain sober within Bloomington’s party scene.
On a late Friday evening in a cozy two-bedroom apartment on the south side of Bloomington, and far
from the clamor of
Kirkwood Avenue and the house parties happening just off campus, 24-year-old IU sophomore Bennett
tinkered with a 1-1/2-foot tall model robot from the anime series “Gundam.”
The model — one of dozens seemingly occupying every inch of free space around the apartment — was
made up of almost a
hundred individual parts that Larsen would carefully piece together over the course of a few days.
Depending on the size
and complexity of the model, he estimates assembling a model can take from two hours to a week. His
ideal night consists
of five hours of model-making — no interruptions.
“I’m definitely addicted to this,” Larsen said. “I’d rather be addicted to making models than to
marijuana. Trust me,
it’s a lot better than the alternative.”
TOP Larsen recalls memories of living with a
other who he said
enabled his addiction at times. He now has a girlfriend who supports his efforts to remain
LEFT One of Larsen's most recent models is a small Gundam figurine. Larsen said a
this size would only take a few hours to build.
BOTTOM MIDDLE Larsen looks at the individual weapons and pieces he has yet to
out and assemble
on one of his recent models. He said it takes time, but he enjoys the focus it takes to build
BOTTOM RIGHT The instructions and tools Larsen uses to make his models sit out
his kitchen table
as he works on his most recent ones. They often come with dozens of parts he individually
Larsen first came to Bloomington as a part-time Ivy Tech student before becoming addicted to
marijuana and subsequently
leaving the school and his internship program. He had smoked it once before coming to the city, but
once he began
smoking regularly at college, he found it difficult to stop.
“It turned from a couple times a month to every weekend to most nights,” Larsen said. “One time my
friend and I ran into each other on our way to our internship group first thing in the morning and
we looked at each other and went to his room to get high.”
Drug and party culture in Bloomington is like a snowball rolling down a hill: once it starts
rolling, it’s nearly
impossible to stop after a certain point. IU is known as a prominent party school, ranking in the
top 20 party schools
in the nation by Newsweek
. Larsen’s struggles to maintain his sobriety while in a college town is not
uncommon; any all-encompassing culture only leaves stragglers that much more to the wayside.
According to a 2019
University of Michigan survey,
over 76% of Americans between 19 and 22 reported consuming alcohol,
while over 55% of respondents reported having used marijuana in the past. Additionally, the 2018
version of the same
study reported over 59% of college students had been drunk in the past.
Bloomington is a town where drinking and partying are omnipresent, especially for college students.
downtown's central roadway with a wide variety of bars, is packed almost every night with people
between bars or drinking
in the street.
“After midnight you tend to see a lot of extremely inebriated people,” Luke Van Den Eeden, IU
student and bouncer
at Brothers Bar and Grill, said. “Social life in Bloomington involves a lot of alcohol.”
“The party culture here in Bloomington seems mildly unsafe, so when I go out I don’t go out by
myself,” local Alyssa
Gartner said while bar hopping following the homecoming football game in October. “Indiana
University is known for being
one of the largest party colleges in the world.”
Ceremonies and celebrations are just excuses for crowds of people to get wildly drunk, IU junior
Abby Blomer said. She
hadn’t had a drop of alcohol until the day she graduated from high school, but her drinking became a
problem when she
started attending IU.
TOP LEFT A large road sign is used while Kirkwood is closed to remind visitors that
open alcohol is
illegal to have in public settings. People often hop between bars along Kirkwood, bringing with them
TOP RIGHT A group of women dance along a closed Kirkwood Avenue after exiting
Kilroy's on Kirkwood, one
of the most popular bars in Bloomington. Just after 9 p.m., the bars are filling up as lines to get
in grow longer.
BOTTOM LEFT A line forms around the corner and down the sidewalk at Nick's. The
popular venue was
especially busy during Homecoming weekend as families and alumni came into town to celebrate.
BOTTOM RIGHT A Bloomington Police Department car stops a truck along Kirkwood
Avenue during Homecoming weekend. Police are often
seen patrolling heavily around downtown Bloomington as patrons hop from bar to bar.
“My first year was awful: there were no in-person classes, I was stuck in this tiny dorm by myself
and I felt like the only thing entertaining I could do was alcohol,” Blomer, now a junior, said
about her first months at IU. “When you don’t have any responsibilities, it’s fine to drink Friday,
Saturday, and Sunday if that’s your regular party weekend.”
For Larsen, smoking began as a social event but soon became an escape from schoolwork and other
“I spent every day high,” Larsen said. “I kind of had a job but not really, my family wasn’t
supporting me financially anymore, I’d wake up every morning worried about what I’d get yelled at
for next. But I thought I was happy because I was high.”
The simple act of walking across campus is enough to remind Larsen of his struggles to avoid
marijuana since the smell
of the drug is strong, distinguishable and common. Although marijuana possession is illegal in
Indiana, many local
dispensaries are legally able to sell versions of the product with a small enough amount of THC
known as Delta 8.
Larsen found it difficult to quit smoking for the sake of others, and he was unwilling to seek
recovery until he wanted
it for himself. This is common for many people in Narcotics Anonymous, Larsen said.
Larsen said he became convinced to quit marijuana one morning when he found himself smoking a bowl
in front of an open
window seemingly without a care in the world.
“It was 9 a.m. in the morning, I’m sitting on the couch with the blinds completely open. I’m sitting
there, in my underwear, and I’m smoking a bowl. Some form of clarity came to me in that moment and I
realized it was the beginning of the day and I’m practically naked, on display for anyone walking by
and we live next to a relatively busy road, and I’m smoking, doing something that is illegal in this
state,” Larsen said. “That was the first time I ever really felt true shame for drug use, and I
realized that maybe things need to change.”
The road to recovery looks different for everyone, Lindsay Potts said, director of Behavioral Health
Services for IU
“Recovery is any action toward growth. There are thousands of ways for people to live in
recovery,” Potts said. “Therapy, group therapy and peer support offer resources to individuals to
find their path forward.”
IU Health’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers treat addiction as a symptom of other issues,
Cheek said. Their recovery program encompasses a six to eight week intensive outpatient care course
which often involves
multiple weekly meetings and check-ups. Following this program, patients go through a less intensive
for two to three months.
“We try to help patients build a support network and help them replace drugs with something more
positive,” Cheek said. “Abusing a substance can become a relationship for some people, so without
something to fill in the gap of that relationship relapses become more likely.”
Larsen attends weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings and works with the Collegiate Recovery Community
to connect with
others who are avoiding substance abuse on and around campus. The NA meetings, he says, are more
rigorous and include a
wider variety of people, but the CRC offers a space for IU students and allows them to talk about
while they were using.
Getting clean was not a simple process for Larsen. To avoid the temptation of using, he began
spending more time with
friends he made through his connections in the recovery community and stopped seeing people whose
relationship with him
was based solely on their mutual drug usage.
“There were many, many relapses between my decision to get clean and my first long stint of
sobriety,” Larsen said. “I decided for myself that I wanted my life to be better, I wanted to go
to school, that I didn’t want to work at Arby’s anymore. It was a good job, but it was not
conducive to a clean mindset.”
Students who seek recovery often do so at the behest of others, such as friends or family, Cheek
said. These patients
tend to be less self-motivated in their recovery, which can be an impediment in their sobriety.
Larsen and Blomer found it difficult to pursue recovery without an internal motivation. Blomer
chose to seek recovery
because she found she didn’t like the person she was becoming when she drank.
“I had this intense fear of coming down from being drunk so I would just continue drinking as
the night went on. A lot of things happened that I didn’t remember, someone told me that I
kissed someone, a lot of specific things I did that very much were not me, that didn’t reflect
who I was,” Blomer said. “That was when I realized that I couldn’t keep doing this.”