College can be incredibly stressful, especially for those of us with other responsibilities, extremely strict courses, and a great deal of responsibilities. If you’ve been struggling with a substance use disorder, chances are, you’re also behind and have a lot of catching up to do. That can and will lead to relapse if you’re not careful – especially in many college environments, where drugs and alcohol are common.
In fact, with 2.2% of college students using Ritalin, 9.9% using Adderall, and 32% binge drinking – drug and alcohol abuse in college is higher than at any other stage in your life.
At the same time, your college experience doesn’t have to include relapse. It doesn’t matter how old you, how long you’ve been sober, or how stressful your classes. With planning, support, and continuously seeking out help, you can resist relapse in college. These 6 tips will get you started.
If you’re recently clean and sober, going to college is a huge step that could easily result in relapse. Sober living support, or even attending a sober college, could greatly help with that. Most importantly, many universities and colleges offer strictly sober dorms on-campus, where you’ll have support in staying drug and alcohol free. In most cases, you’ll have to look for sober living support outside of your dorm – but it will give you the daily motivation and daily accountability that could help you stay in recovery.
Sober living, sometimes called a halfway house, involves living in a boarding house or dorm with a group of other sober people. You eat together, do chores together, and often do activities together, much like a regular dorm. At the same time, you may also have facilitators and mental health professionals checking up on you, doing checks for drugs and alcohol, and asking you to be accountable for your time, your substance use, and your mental health.
Sober colleges are much rarer, but you can find options via the Association for Recovery in Higher Education. This association is dedicated to helping students find sober studying resources, ranging from sober dorms to sober schools – so you can get the support you need in staying in recovery. That may be important, but it may also be too late, if you’ve already been accepted, especially if into a prestigious school.
Many American Colleges pride themselves on being party schools, destinations to go drink on the weekends, and a place to go to enjoy yourself in between lessons. You’ll have to practice saying no, and you’ll get a lot of practice over the duration of your stay. In fact, with many college activities centering on alcohol, you may have to avoid some college activities and groups entirely.
Many of your peers will be emotionally intelligent, sensitive to your desire to avoid drugs and alcohol, and concerned about your wellbeing. Others will be the opposite. Colleges are full of young people, many who are still learning to navigate the world and the people around them. Refusing alcohol can be seen as a slight.
However, as more and more young people choose to be drug and alcohol free, you’ll almost always be able to find groups that don’t indulge in drugs or alcohol. But, you’ll still have to practice saying no and sticking to that no. That can be as honest or as privacy protecting as you’d like. For example:
If you’re constantly around a group of people, it’s a good idea to disclose that you won’t drink because you are in recovery. If you won’t be around them all the time, disclosing that can be exhausting and unnecessary. Decide who and when to disclose your history to as you feel fit, but make sure that you communicate clearly and firmly that you are not interested in drugs or alcohol.
Whether you have a counselor, a sober buddy at 12-step, or just your siblings or parents, it’s important to stay accountable. That means communicating how you feel, sharing when drugs and alcohol are offered to you, and staying in touch with people you need to be accountable to. Creating distance between those people is easy if you’re not around them much, but distance can actually push you to relapse. Talk to your friends and family, be honest, and be accountable to them.
Most importantly, you want to find a local self-help or accountability group you can join. Many colleges even have their own 12-Step groups like AA or NA operating on campus. However, you can always seek out a 12-Step, SMART Recovery, or LifeRing Recovery group outside of college to protect your privacy.
College students are very prone to long days, long nights, and very little sleep. You might switch to eating poorly. You might suddenly have less time for exercise. But, if you’ve been to rehab, you know that diet and exercise are important aspects of staying in recovery. You have to keep your body in shape to preserve your mental health. And, you have to maintain your mental health to avoid relapse. That means creating healthy habits and a healthy schedule as you navigate college.
In most cases this means:
In most cases, you should aim to be up one time, exercise, have a good breakfast, and spend time to yourself every single day. You should also aim to schedule time in for leisure, because getting to relax and enjoy yourself is an important part of your mental health.
There are often plenty of activities on and around campus that have nothing to do with drugs or alcohol. Getting involved in them can help you to fill your time with meaningful and social activities – without putting yourself around people drinking and partying. These range from sports clubs to gaming to learning dance or crochet, but generally involve groups of people doing things together in their free time. If you want to get involved, try looking at your college’s website or social media pages or checking with your counselor.
Taking part in social activities will always be an important part of your mental and physical health. Doing so in spaces without drugs and alcohol only make it easier to maintain your sobriety, because you won’t constantly rely on your ability to say no.
No matter how long you’ve been in recovery, you still want to get support and help. That’s especially true when your life suddenly changes, such as when you’re going to college. Attending long-term therapy, going to SMART or 12-Step, taking part in aftercare, or going to an outpatient recovery program can give you the tools you need to stay clean and sober as you navigate college.
College can be stressful. It can be full of people who want to drink and get high. But, it’s also you working on yourself and working for your future. Staying clean and sober is part of that. While college is hard, there are plenty of resources dedicated to helping you stay clean and sober on nearly every campus. Look for them, take part in them, and continue the habits and treatment you learned in rehab.
Good luck with college.
If you have any questions about relapse prevention or about our drug and alcohol rehab programs, contact us today to speak in complete confidence with one of our experienced and caring addiction treatment team.