Many people assume that college students are too young to be in recovery, but that’s not true at all. It’s common for substance use to become a problem between the ages of 18 and 25, a time when many people are in college. A substance use disorder may appear even earlier, forcing you to postpone college plans. College students are definitely not too young to be in recovery. If you’re in recovery and starting college or going back to college, here are some tips to help you stay sober.
Avoid the party scene.
For some people, college is just one big party. Studies show that about 80 percent of college students drink and about 40 of students report binge drinking within the past two weeks. That’s a lot more than the general population. Despite the boozy culture common on many campuses, drinking is not quite as pervasive as many imagine. Yes, 40 percent of college students report recent binge drinking, but that also means 60 haven’t been binge drinking. That means parties certainly aren’t hard to find, but neither are they hard to avoid. And more than half of people you run into on campus won’t be habitual binge drinkers. Therefore, there is plenty of opportunity to associate with people who won’t drink excessively and won’t expect you to drink.
Find a sober roommate.
It can be challenging to stay sober when you have a roommate that drinks a lot and keeps alcohol in the apartment or dorm room. It’s much easier if you both are more or less on the same page. Most colleges allow you to choose your roommate if you have someone in mind, so if possible, don’t leave it to chance. The ideal situation is to make an arrangement with someone you already know, someone who doesn’t drink or use drugs and who you get along with reasonably well. This might be someone you know from high school, treatment, or AA. It doesn’t really matter as long as you can agree on sober living rules. If you don’t know someone already, you can try to find someone online. You can either put an ad on Craigslist or look for someone on a site like MySoberRoommate. Dorms are typically supposed to be substance free, so what partying there is tends to be low key. This makes them a pretty good option for someone in recovery. For anyone living off campus, it may be a good idea to look for a place away from the student areas, where parties are common.
Stress is a major trigger of cravings and relapse and you’ll have no shortage of stress in college. It’s crucial to learn to manage that stress as early as possible. Keep stress at a reasonable level by managing your schedule. Start with the classes you absolutely need and don’t try to pack in too much. Assume you’ll need two hours of study time for every hour of lecture, especially for the more challenging subjects like math and hard sciences. Schedule study time, ideally right after class or discussion, so you’re not trying to cram at odd hours. If you get behind, talk to your professor or TA right away. Don’t wait until a small problem has snowballed into a big one. If you have some kind of personal problem, your instructors will often be able to work with you.
Get involved with campus activities.
New students can often feel isolated when they first start classes, especially if they’re at a big university. All your classes your first semester may have 300 students, although labs and discussion sections are typically smaller and more conducive to making friends. You can make friends even more quickly by getting involved with campus activities. Even small campuses have many clubs, groups, and organizations that are easy to join and welcome new members. It might be chess, the newspaper, a recreational sports team, a language club, a political group, or whatever. Getting involved with these groups is an easy way to meet people who share your interests and people who aren’t in your year, which is often helpful. These groups may give you a sense of purpose or just help you relax by doing something fun.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to get regular exercise. It reduces stress, improves your mood, and makes you healthier. College life can be extremely busy, so it’s important to schedule active time every day. This reduces stress and anxiety and improves sleep, but it also has a direct impact on your academic performance. Exercise strengthens your prefrontal cortex, which improves concentration, willpower, and working memory. It also promotes neuron growth in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in turning short-term memories into long-term memories. In other words, devoting some time to exercise every day will help you study more effectively and learn more quickly.
Take care of yourself.
Although you are likely to be busy most of the time, be sure to take care of yourself. You can only get so far skipping meals and pulling all-nighters before it catches up to you. Be sure you’re getting some exercise, leaving some time for relaxation, getting plenty of sleep, and eating reasonably healthy food. You may feel like you can get by on pizza and Chinese takeout, but that kind of eating on a regular basis makes you sick and lethargic. It impairs your concentration and worsens your mood. As much as possible, sit down for real meals that include fruits and vegetables. Also, don’t skip sleep. Sleep is when your memories from the day are consolidated in your brain, so all the studying you did during the day is not worth as much if you don’t sleep enough to let your brain make the right connections. Sleep also reduces feelings of stress and anxiety, so make getting enough sleep a priority.
Make use of campus support.
Many campuses have a lot of support in place for students. These are as varied as academic tutoring, health services, psychological counseling, and financial services. If you’re having trouble with anything, see if there’s support available on campus. You’re paying for all these services, so don’t hesitate to make use of them, especially if they can significantly reduce stress in some area of your life.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or a mental health issue, we can help. At Fort Behavioral Health, we offer a safe and nurturing space to navigate negative emotions and practice coping skills that will support you in your recovery journey. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 844.332.1807.