Many assume college age is too young to be in recovery from addiction but actually people between the ages of 18 and 25 are at the highest risk for developing a substance use disorder. This period, sometimes called emerging adulthood, is a time of major life change with both a lot more freedom and a lot more responsibility. It’s an exciting time but it can also be stressful and lonely. What’s more, drinking has become a common part of college culture, pushing college students to drink at a higher rate than their non-college peers. An estimated 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder. Addiction also disrupts lives, interrupting or delaying college attendance. If you are going back to college after getting help for addiction, here are some tips for maintaining your recovery.
Stay close to your support system.
With all the available options for college, it may be a good idea to stay near your support system. Many people starting college feel lonely and isolated at first, especially if they attend a large university and have 300 students in every class. This feeling of isolation can make you feel stressed and overwhelmed. What’s more, you may feel like the normal rules don’t apply, since you’re so far from anyone who can hold you accountable. On the other hand, if you stay near your support system, whether it’s your family of origin or your family of choice, you maintain your system of social support, which both lowers stress and increases your feeling of accountability. It also has practical benefits. You don’t have to find a new 12-step meeting or a new therapist so you can preserve a sense of continuity with what you’ve already accomplished in recovery.
Find sober housing.
It’s crucial to find a place to live where you won’t be constantly tempted by drugs or alcohol. Finding somewhere to live that supports your sobriety is key to staying sober in college. Clearly, fraternity and sorority houses are out of the question. However, off-campus housing areas dominated by students can often be just as bad in terms of parties. Typically, colleges and universities will either prohibit drugs and alcohol in campus housing, or limit alcohol to specific dorms. Institutions are notoriously bad at enforcing no-alcohol policies but even so, drinking typically happens behind closed doors, where it’s relatively easy to ignore. The key is to make sure your roommate is either sober or is willing to keep drugs and alcohol out of your room. Many universities also have family housing, which is relatively cheap and free of parties.
If you decide to stay off campus, look for quiet areas without many students. If you decide to live with a roommate, make sure your roommate is sober or at least willing to respect your sobriety at home. There are online platforms like mysoberroommate.com that can help you find someone who shares your sobriety goals or you might know someone through your treatment program or 12-step meeting.
Learn to manage stress.
College can be extremely stressful, with far too much work and far too little time. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, worried you might fail, or think you shouldn’t even be there at all. Everyone feels that way sometimes, especially at first. The key is to learn to manage the stress. Schedule your classes with some margin for error. In this case, it’s better to do too little than too much. Schedule study time so you don’t find yourself studying and working on assignments at odd hours. Learn the most efficient ways to study to minimize cramming and all-nighters. Also be sure to schedule some time to relax every day so the stress doesn’t keep accumulating.
Engage in on-campus activities.
If you want to avoid the party scene in college, it helps to have other things to do. Every campus has a variety of clubs and activities to suit many different interests. These are a great way to get a break from class and studying, meet new friends who share your interests, and generally broaden your horizons.
Stick to your recovery plan.
Whether you go to college near home or far away, be sure to stick to your recovery plan. If you’re in a different context, you may be tempted to let it slide but it’s more important now than ever. Make sure you’re going to 12-step meetings, talking to you therapist, meditating, journaling, or doing whatever else is in your recovery plan. Recovery care management may be helpful in this regard to help coordinate services in a new place. Sober monitoring may also provide extra accountability and help families feel more at ease when a loved one is attending college far away.
Pay attention to self-care.
As busy as life can get in college, it’s crucial to pay attention to self-care. That means eating healthy most of the time, getting plenty of sleep, limiting all-nighters, getting regular exercise, socializing with positive people and taking time to relax. You can get away with a late night or pizza dinner every once in a while, but eventually it will catch up to you. Your mood and energy will start slipping and your recovery may start showing cracks.
Use the school’s resources.
You’re probably paying a fortune in fees for various services, so be sure to use them. Go to the student health center when you’re feeling sick, get tutoring when you’re struggling in a class, and go to the writing center to help you write your papers. These services will help reduce stress and keep you on track.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.