Breaking alcohol’s death grip

Twice driven to near suicide, new CMCREW student support coordinator helps others

| Author: Gary H. Piatek

He was just 15 when he first got drunk.

“It was a liberating experience,” Isaac Dieterman said. “It gave me a sense of overwhelming happiness and acceptance from my peers.”

But like a python that captures its prey, alcohol began slowly squeezing the life out of him.

He went from drinking a couple of beers to downing a fifth of vodka at a time; from popularity to alienation from friends and family; from exemplary student to dropout; from valued employee to jobless; from clear-minded to having horrifying hallucinations; from a healthy teenager full of promise to a haggard young man sitting with the business end of a shotgun in his mouth, ready to end it all.

Today, at age 26, Dieterman a recent Central Michigan University graduate with a degree in psychology and a minor in substance abuse education who is pursuing a Master of Arts degree focused on addiction counseling.

This video includes frank talk about alcohol addiction and attempted suicide.

Experienced leaders help others make better decisions

Dieterman’s recovery not only has influenced his career choice, but it also has driven him to make a difference in the lives of college students who are struggling with alcohol and drug abuse.

He is doing that as the new student support coordinator for the Central Michigan Collegiate Recovery Education and Wellness program. CMCREW offers students free prevention and recovery services, including evaluating students’ alcohol and drug use, offering one-on-one recovery coaching, and conducting peer-led support groups and intervention classes.

He and CMCREW’s supervisor, Jessica Miller, have credibility among those who get trapped in substance abuse. They have walked the walk.

has been a professional counselor for more than 10 years and is in long-term recovery from alcohol abuse. She also has witnessed it among her loved ones.

“I look back at my own recovery from alcohol abuse and wonder what would’ve happened if there had been something like this for me in college,” Miller said. “Would I have gotten sober earlier?”

Challenging obstacles

Their fight is not easy. Perception and peer pressure are just two of the obstacles between a troubled student and the team of Miller, Dieterman and their student interns.

“Substance abuse in college is considered just part of the experience,” Miller said. “There’s no understanding of the potential long-term consequences of abuse, no understanding that at any point you can cross over that line.”

Tony Voisin, CMU’s associate vice president of student affairs, agrees and has some corroborating statistics.

Over the course of a year, 80 to 90 CMU students are transported by ambulance for alcohol and/or drug use, and the bulk of those are among the 3,000 new students CMU enrolls every year, he said.

“That’s the population that will always be a challenge. They are experimenting, trying new things.”

Tackling a decades-old challenge

Substance abuse is an issue that CMU has fought for decades, but it took a different turn in 2016 when the university entered into an on-campus partnership with area nonprofit Ten 16 Recovery Network. CMU provided the space in Robinson Hall, and Ten 16 hired the staff and student helpers.

“If we are able to save one student from leaving the university and support their plan for recovery in an environment that is difficult for that, then we’ve succeeded.” — Tony Voisin, associate vice president of student affairs

That collaboration allowed CMU to grow its on-campus prevention and recovery services without incurring additional costs. It is primarily funded through a mix of local, state and federal dollars, insurance billing and student fees.

“CMCREW has become our support resource as well as an education center for students,” Voisin said.

But it has to overcome a few hurdles of its own.

Because of its relatively short existence, location and student turnover, CMCREW has the constant hurdles of building and maintaining awareness, said Miller and Voisin.

“Many people don’t know about the program, but we are working on that,” Voisin said.

CMCREW is trying new things, such as participating in last year’s wellness fair with the College of Medicine, “and now we have students who are living the recovery lifestyle and can walk the walk and talk the talk,” he said.

“If we are able to save one student from leaving the university and support their plan for recovery in an environment that can be challenging, then we’ve succeeded.”

Other on-campus counseling and mental health services

Counseling Center: Confidential mental health counseling. Staffed by mental health professionals and trained graduate students. Free to currently enrolled students. 102 Foust Hall, 989-774-3381.

Care Advocate Program: Free counseling by licensed mental health professionals in residence halls’ Student Success Centers: east, 989-774-1879; north, 989-774-3947; south, 989-774-3089; and Towers, 989-774-6601.

CMU Cares: Counseling for concerns about the well-being of a student or other member of the CMU community. 290 Ronan Hall, 989-774-2273.

Center for Community Counseling and Development: Graduate students to counsel CMU students and community residents of all ages. Free to CMU students. Education and Human Services Building 321, 989-774-3532.

Psychological Training and Consultation Center : Assessment and counseling services to central and lower Michigan residents of all ages. Graduate psychology student counselors are supervised by faculty licensed psychologists. In general, services are not eligible for insurance reimbursement. Charges are based on a sliding fee. Carls Center for Clinical Care and Education, Health Professions Building, 989-774-3904.

University Health Services: Board-certified physicians who care for the campus community and family members age 14 and up. Services comparable to a family physician’s office. Fee-for-service clinic, but payment is not required on the day of service. Foust Hall 200 and Troutman Hall 103, 989-774-6599.

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