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Staying sober in college when you’re also in recovery can seem like an intimidating prospect. Since time immemorial, after all, college campuses have been petri dishes crawling with young adult experimentation. Heavy partying, binge drinking and recreational drugs have all belonged to that picture—and today, potentially even more so. College binge drinking is on the rise, according to a recent report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and an earlier study, this one published by Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, found that nearly half of America’s 5.4 million full-time college students either abuse alcohol or drugs in binges at least once a month.
Add to this mix the stresses of a strange, new environment and the accompanying academic and social pressures of college life, and what you encounter is a whole thicket of relapse triggers. We’re here to offer tips and resources to help you navigate these temptations, so that staying sober in college doesn’t have to be quite so daunting.
Connect with others in recovery and those who choose abstinence from drugs or alcohol for other reasons
Remember you are never alone in your choice to abstain from alcohol. In fact, there are many others in similar situations. Chances are, you’ll be able to find these new friends by participating in fun, recreational activities that don’t include boozing and doing drugs.
When Penn State professor of education and psychology Jeff Hayes and his colleagues from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health collected data from more than 100 college campuses, they concluded that as many as 56 percent of students either do not binge drink or do not drink at all. If that finding is correct, it can be a reassurance that if you’re abstaining from alcohol, you may actually belong to a majority of college students choosing not to drink or binge drink.
The Penn State estimate of college binge drinking rates is admittedly rosier than others. Still, even if the worst-case scenario is true—that as many as 60 percent of college students reportedly binge drink in any given month of the school year—that means that as many as 40 percent don’t. In other words, there are many college students for whom binge drinking and alcohol are not the primary or only mode of socializing.
Join a campus recovery club or community
There are now many such recovery clubs and communities sprouting up on college campuses across America. The whole aim of these recovery support groups is to help students stay sober by providing them with fun ways to socialize without alcohol or drugs.
These communities vary in size and structure, depending on the university, and they go by different names. Some are smaller, student-run organizations while others are fully embedded university programs, according to a recent article in The New York Times. The article, published in February 2015, featured some of the University of Michigan students who joined that party school’s relatively new “Collegiate Recovery Program” (CRP). At that time, some 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.
Request to live in a sober dorm
More and more colleges are introducing sober living arrangements for students. In a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, sober living homes—drug and alcohol-free residences—significantly boosted recovery outcomes. The researchers concluded that in marked contrast, “lack of a stable, alcohol and drug-free living environment can be a serious obstacle to sustained abstinence.”
The same reasoning strengthens the case for living in a sober dorm residence. To learn whether your school makes these sorts of accommodations for those in recovery, contact your on-campus health and wellness or psychological services department. If your college does not provide sober living options, an off-campus, private housing arrangement with someone also in recovery may be another option to consider.
Take advantage of your on-campus counseling services
Regular, post-rehab maintenance therapies strengthen recovery outcomes, according to studies from the world of addiction recovery. Even regular check-ins with a counselor trained in talk therapy can be a helpful way to cope drug-free with the stresses of university life.
These days most colleges—whether or not they have existing CRPs or sober dorms—do at least recognize the importance of resourcing student mental health. Many colleges thus offer psychotherapies found to be effective for treating substance abuse and the co-occurring disorders (like anxiety or depression) that often feed an addiction. In many cases, such on-campus therapies are available to students at a minimal charge, if any.
Cultivate a healthy lifestyle
Do not underestimate the importance of maintaining good sleep habits, a balanced and nutritious diet, and a regular exercise routine. Mindful meditation and yoga—and some of the other alternative treatments and spiritual practices that supplement inpatient treatment programs—are another way to sustain the daily rhythms of recovery throughout the school year.