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5 Tips for Staying Sober as a College Student

5 Tips for Staying Sober as a College Student

Many people assume college students are too young to be recovering from addiction, but the fact is that the age of the typical full-time college student coincides with that age at which drugs and alcohol typically become a problem. It’s also sometimes the case that substance use issues force people to delay their life plans, including education. Therefore, many people find themselves attending college after getting sober. College can be a challenging place for sober people, since drinking is typically considered integral to the college experience, especially in the US. More than half of college students report drinking at least once in the past month and more than a third report binge drinking in the past month. However, that also implies that at least half of college students drink moderately or not at all. What’s more, being sober will give you a significant advantage when it comes to your studies and extracurricular activities. The following are some tips for staying sober in college.

1.) Stay Near Your Support System If Possible

First, try to stay connected to your existing sober support system, whether that’s friends, family, 12-Step group, or whatever else. Social support and connection are some of the most important parts of a strong recovery. People who move away to go to college often face the difficult combination of loneliness and the stresses of school and generally being in a new place. If you can stay where you are, you retain your emotional support system and minimize new stress. To this end, it may be better to attend a college or community college in your area or even comm

ute if it’s not too long of a drive. That assumes there is a college near you and that it’s a reasonable option. If you can stay where you are, at least for the first semester, it will make the transition to college life much safer.

2.) Choose Your Residence Wisely

If or when you do decide to move to attend college, it’s important to choose your residence well. Certainly, avoid living in a frat or sorority house or even in the same neighborhood. Although some groups are certainly better than others, it’s going to be hard for you to avoid drugs and alcohol. Off-campus student housing areas are often just as bad.

The best options for sober housing will usually be either stay on campus or live in a part of town without many students. Most dorms prohibit drugs and alcohol, although how strictly that is enforced varies widely among institutions. Generally speaking, a dorm will probably have less drinking if it’s not exclusively male or not exclusively first-year students. Also, many universities have family housing available. These are typically small apartments occupied mostly by graduate students and foreign students. Therefore, family housing is typically pretty quiet and affordable. 

Whatever housing option you choose, it’s also a good idea to find a sober roommate. University housing services may be able to help you with that or you might have to find someone through a service like Or perhaps you know someone through your 12-Step meetings or elsewhere who also needs a roommate. 

3.) Find a Local Support System

Whether or not you remain living at home while attending college, it helps to have social support on campus. This may or may not be a group of sober people but it will certainly be a group focused on something other than drugs or alcohol. For example, you might find a 12-Step group near campus or you might get involved with activities that support your recovery. For example, most colleges and universities have tons of opportunities to get involved in volunteering, which, in addition to being a positive activity and a great way to meet friends, is one of the 12 steps. 

However, campuses have groups of all kinds--languages, games, academic disciplines, sports, activism, and more. These are all great opportunities to make new friends around activities that are more constructive than drinking.

4.) Manage Your Course Schedule

One of the biggest challenges for anyone recovering from addiction is managing stress, which is typically a major trigger of cravings. Managing stress is a whole topic in itself but in the context of college, one of the best ways to manage stress is to manage your schedule. New college students are often surprised by how much they have to study when they first start college. Also, high fees often make students try to pack as many courses as they can into every semester. Unfortunately, that’s a great way to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and helpless. It’s much better to keep your schedule as light as you can within the constraints of academic and scholarship requirements. 

Keep in mind that class time is only the tip of the iceberg. Many classes, especially in your first year, will also have study sections and labs, both of which may assign their own homework. Then, there’s just the regular studying you’ll have to do for each class. You’ll typically get more mileage from putting more effort into mastering a few core subjects than by trying to take a huge variety of classes and you’ll feel less stressed that way too.

5.) Practice Self-Care

College students aren’t known for their self-care. Rather, they tend to be known to eat a lot of pizza and stay up late. These kinds of habits are bad for both your grades and your recovery. As much as possible, try to maintain any healthy lifestyle changes you’ve made as part of addiction recovery. Try to eat a diet mostly composed of nutritious whole foods with a minimum of sugar and fried food. Get regular exercise, even if it’s just walking a lot. 

Most importantly, don’t skimp on sleep. Sleep is when new skills and information are consolidated into long-term memory, so staying up late to study is really counterproductive. Sleep deprivation also impairs your concentration and short-term and working memory. If you’re tempted to stay up all night studying for a test, the reality is that you’ll probably benefit more from a good night’s sleep. Most importantly, consistently getting enough sleep is crucial for emotional stability, so resist the urge to cut corners by cutting sleep.

Although college is known for parties and drinking, that’s only a small part of the college experience. When you consider all the opportunities college offers--not only for classroom education, but also for gaining broader cultural knowledge, meeting interesting people, volunteering, and getting involved in new activities--using the opportunity just to drink seems like a waste of time. Staying sober starts with creating the right conditions, such as where you choose to live, and associating with the right people. There is a fairly strong inverse correlation between grades and drinking, meaning that more serious students tend to drink less. There are always exceptions, of course, but by associating with other people who want to learn as much as they can, you are likely to end up around relatively sober peers.

 At The Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction is a process of continuous learning. We also know that the best reason for getting sober is so you can live the kind of life you want to live, which may involve higher education. To learn more about our comprehensive approach to addiction recovery, call us at (844) 955-1066.

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