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Students who have managed to stay sober in college for months may find themselves dreading new dangers as spring break approaches. Binge drinking is a feature of many spring break celebrations, and the “everyone does it” perception even more widespread. Even before a student leaves campus, peer chat about planned celebrations may create pressure to return with “partying” stories.
If you’re among the students who have been in recovery during the past college term, and especially if you have a history of binging during previous spring breaks, this article will provide helpful hints on how to enjoy spring break while in recovery.
Stay in Touch with Your Support Network
If you’re relatively new to recovery, familiar support resources may all be on campus, or at least in your college town. This can pose a problem for students who will be traveling long distances for spring break. Cut loose from campus routines, forced to miss regular support-group meetings, they fight an uphill battle against temptation to mute boredom and stress with the old chemical crutch.
Fortunately, modern communications technology makes it easier than ever to keep your regular support network in close touch, even when physically separated. Make arrangements with at least one support partner to exchange daily calls or texts, and to be available in case of emergency. Remain active in any social-media groups that are part of your regular support network.
Don’t, however, neglect to cultivate support in the location where you’ll be physically spending spring break. Regular support-group participants are more successful in long-term recovery, so find substitutes for your regular meeting schedule. If you belong to a widespread support program such as Alcoholics Anonymous, there’s probably a group convenient to your back-home neighborhood. Also, if a hometown treatment facility was part of your initial recovery, get in touch with their aftercare program and see what events are taking place while you’re in town.
And, assuming your family and old acquaintances are supportive, get them actively involved in helping you avoid temptation. Plan sober activities you can enjoy together. Dust off neglected family traditions such as hunting the year’s first wildflowers, shopping for Easter clothes or serving special end-of-winter recipes. Or invent a new tradition.
Watch out for Old Triggers
Unfortunately, not all home environments can be relied on to support vacationing students in recovery. You may have parents or other caregivers who drink heavily themselves, and aren’t about to change their habits because you “can’t handle it.” Or your family may be abusive, negligent or otherwise toxic in ways that make drinking to reduce stress almost irresistible. If your home situation is that bad, you may have to make alternate living arrangements for spring break.
If your family home is free from triggers, you may still have local friends who know you only as someone they always share a snort with. Avoid them (if possible, don’t even let them know you’re in town), and avoid any places where you regularly met for substance abuse.
On the other hand, you may be among the students who never touched dangerous substances before starting college, and are leaving their worst triggers behind on campus. (The college freshman year is a particularly risky period for alcohol abuse, as youngsters feel overly confident in their new independence and are subject to the influence of older students who look “grown up”—who may even be of legal drinking age—but whose judgment isn’t yet mature.) If that’s your situation, be grateful, but not complacent. Triggers such as stress, boredom and a rosy picture of drug use can sneak up on you in new forms during spring break. Know your personal weak spots, and stay away from anything that reminds you of college situations where you regularly used.
Beware the Post-Work Crash
Be careful, also, that leaving the crush of mid-term exams and other campus demands doesn’t create a sudden opening for relapse. Many people (some well beyond college years) follow a habitual work-and-break pattern that resembles an addict’s highs-and-lows lifestyle: they feed on adrenaline day after day as they strive to meet seemingly endless demands, then when a weekend or vacation arrives, they “crash” into extra sleep, mindless recreation or even medical depression. Never enjoying their time off as much as they feel they should, they find the temptations of chemical mood-boosters especially attractive.
Many students are as prone, if not more, to binge drinking on ordinary weekends as during spring break. If you had a problem there, be extra diligent in preparing your defenses. The best approach is to reduce stress while work periods are still active, rather than laying the full burden of relief on one “Finished!” moment. If you’ve neglected to take regular exercise and meditation breaks, start now—no matter how much remains to do when break time arrives. You’ll ultimately finish with less total effort, and be better prepared to enjoy the longer spring break.
Keep up other good-health habits after arriving at your time-off destination. What helped you stay sober in college will help you here. Stay physically active. Eat protein and fresh fruit while going easy on caffeine and sugar. Take time for real rest—for sitting and daydreaming as well as for sleep.
Remember your personal goals and affirmations. Instead of just “doing nothing” for a week or more, find a project you can enjoy working on while furthering your life purpose. (If you like corresponding, either electronically or in hard copy, this is a good time to write a few “thank-you” notes to those who helped you in treatment and recovery.)
Plan Your Fun in Advance
Finally, remember that one of the best ways to reduce temptation is to be too busy enjoying something better. Be proactive, take responsibility for your own life, know what you enjoy and do something to bring it about. (One word of caution: proactivity does not mean expecting to control everything. Leave some space to absorb disappointment, or it may hand you an excuse to relapse.)
While still on campus, make a list of constructive projects, special outings, books and other activities you would especially enjoy during spring break. Write two or three top choices into set time slots on your calendar. And definitely don’t spend your pre-break planning time with classmates who talk only about the fun they plan to have “partying.”
You may have to consult with your parents on these spring-break plans—especially if they have their own family-activity ideas—but chances are they’ll be pleased to see you taking initiative to spend your time well. As will you. The best way to enjoy spring break while in recovery is to make it part of an active approach to enjoying all of life.