Staying sober in college when you are also in recovery can seem like an intimidating prospect. For decades, college has been fertile ground for young adult experimentation. Partying, drinking and drugs have all been a part of the picture—and today, potentially even more so. College drinking is on the increase, according to a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and an earlier study, published by Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, determined that almost half of the United State’s 5.4 million college students either abuse drugs or alcohol in binges at least once a month.
Add to this mix the stresses of a new environment and the social and academic pressures of the college experience, and what you are left with are a number of triggers for relapse. Here, we offer tips and resources to help you navigate these temptations so that staying sober in college does not have to be quite as challenging.
Connect with others in recovery and who choose abstinence from drugs or alcohol
Keep in mind; you are not alone in your choice to abstain from drugs or alcohol. In fact, there are many college students in similar situations. Chances are, you will be able to find new friends by participating in fun, recreational activities that don’t include drinking and using drugs.
When Professor Jeff Hayes and his colleagues from Penn State’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health analyzed data from over 100 college campuses, they concluded that as many as 56% of students either don’t regularly drink or do not drink at all. Assuming their findings are correct, it can be reassuring that if you are abstaining from alcohol, you are included with the majority of college students who choose not to drink or binge drink.
The Penn State analysis of college binge drinking is more optimistic than others. However, even if the worst-case scenario is true – 60% of college students admittedly binge drink during any given month of the school year—it means that as many as 40% do not binge drink. In other words, there remains a large percentage of college students for whom alcohol and binge drinking are not the primary or only method of socializing.
Join a collegiate recovery program or sober community
There are now many collegiate recovery programs and communities on college campuses across the country. The goal of these recovery support groups is to help students remain sober by providing them with various ways to of interacting and socializing without drugs or alcohol.
Collegiate recovery programs vary in size and structure, depending on the college. Some are student-run organizations while others are fully supported university programs, according to an article in The New York Times. Published in February 2015, the article featured University of Michigan students who participate in that party school ’s new “Collegiate Recovery Program” (CRP). At the time of the article, about 135 CRPs were active across the country.
You can learn whether your campus has an active CRP by contacting the Association of Recovery in Higher Education, or by referencing their nationwide directory of CRP listings here.
Every year, more colleges and universities are developing sober living arrangements for students. In a recent study published by the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, structured sober living homes—drug and alcohol-free homes—significantly boosted recovery outcomes. The study concluded that in contrast, “lack of a stable, alcohol and drug-free living environment can be a serious obstacle to sustained abstinence.”
The same reasoning supports the argument for residing in a sober dorm residence. To understand whether your college or university offers these sorts of residential environments for those in recovery, contact your on-campus health and wellness center or psychological services department. If you determine that your college does not provide sober living residences, an apartment or house with someone in recovery may be a good option for you.
Take advantage of your college counseling center
Sustained, post-addiction rehab maintenance therapies enhance recovery outcomes, according to several studies focused on addiction recovery. Even regular check-ins with a therapist educated in cognitive behavioral therapy (talk therapy) can be a great way to deal with the stressors of college or university life drug-free.
Most colleges—whether or not they have existing Collegiate Recovery Programs or sober dorms—recognize the importance of available mental health support and services. A large percentage colleges offer therapies proven to be effective for substance use and co-occurring disorders (like anxiety or depression) that often accompany addiction. In many cases, such on-campus treatments are available to students at a minimal charge or covered by insurance.
Develop a healthy lifestyle
We often underestimate the importance of maintaining regular sleep patterns, nutritious and balanced diets, and an exercise routine. Mindfulness meditation and yoga—and other alternative treatments and spiritual practices used to supplement inpatient drug rehab programs—are great ways to sustain consistency in your recovery throughout the school year.