Even as an adult long out of high school, fall still has some excitement for me. Fall is a new start for students. Especially those who are starting at a new school, specifically college.

A couple weeks ago, my sister sent me a picture of my nephew’s first day of school as a high school junior. I realized that he will soon be starting to seriously look at and apply for colleges. Over the years I’ve asked him where he wanted to go to college, but it always seemed like a far off dream. Aside from feeling a little sad that my cute little nephew has been taller than me for a couple years and will soon be venturing into the world of young adulthood; I am also excited to see where his journey will take him.

When he does decide and gets accepted to a college, I do hope that he gets a good education. He will also have to navigate through the social part of college. It is the first time many students have total freedom to choose how they structure their lives. If they go to class. When they choose to go home. What they do with their free time. They won’t be grounded if they stay out after curfew. And no one will lecture them if they miss an assignment.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) put out a study in 2017 about college students vs non-college young adults (people aged 19-22) and their substance use. It was reported that in one month 62% of college students drank alcohol while 56% of their peers who were not in college drank alcohol. Out of the 62% of college students who drank alcohol, almost 2 out of 3 of them participated in binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time- 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men- and is known to lead to problems in college. Some academic and some legal.

In 2015, The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction (NIAAA) reported that 1 in 4 college students were experiencing academic consequences due to their use of alcohol. And, 20% of college students met the criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder.

A 2017 study by Melanie M. Iarussi noted that there were similar themes in 8 college students she surveyed. There is a stigma of recovery from a Substance Use Disorder that can be challenging to navigate and can leave one feeling very isolated. Not all schools are supportive of those in recovery and many students do not understand the importance of maintaining sobriety. Peer pressure is real. Overall, however, people in recovery felt like their academics improved due to their outlook and sense of purpose. One thing that stuck out in the study was how much time the students had to devote to their recovery in the midst of college pressure. Though, looking back at the time they were using, the study participants admitted that addiction took up way more of their time and cut into their academics.

Some colleges offer support for those who are in recovery and attending college, giving them their best chance at becoming a college graduate who is still in recovery. Several months ago, NBC ran a news story about someone who graduated college from a school that offered one of these support programs.

Colleges across the US are starting programs of support. There’s a handy website to search for colleges who are known to have recovery support. Keep in mind, some colleges may have support programs that are not listed. Those supports would include on campus meetings or sober campus living.

At Gonzaga University, located in Spokane, WA, Our Unique Recovery (OUR) is a space where students can lead recovery groups and organize gatherings. One does not have to be in recovery, but can be open to recovery. They can also help with case management needs.
And, at Central Washington University, located in Ellensburg, WA Recovery Outreach Community (ROC) offers on campus housing for people in recovery. They also offer some events for students.

Even if your college does not offer one of these programs that are school sponsored, there are ways to maintain sobriety while attending college.

Here are just a few tips while attending college:

  • Gonzaga mentioned that on their housing application form you can note that you would like to room with someone else in recovery. Likely other colleges offer the same option. Check to see if your college has a sober living option.
  • Even if your college doesn’t have an organized program, it is important to seek out opportunities to connect with a positive recovery network. College can offer many activities and opportunities to thrive. Many colleges have a student health and wellness center that offer resources to 12-step groups.
  • Look for groups to get involved with that meet on campus. For example, intramural sports can be a great way to stay active in recovery.
  • Develop relaxation and self-care techniques early. This will help long into the future. Head to the student gym, write in a journal, or practice meditation.
  • If you need extra support, or need help getting connected, talk to a counselor at your school. If your school has a student health and wellness center, take advantage of it.

There are many ways to maintain sobriety while at college. Recovery is a lifelong investment in yourself. Luckily, colleges are supporting their community by offering options. The best way to maintain sobriety at college is by being proactive. Don’t just wait and see how it goes, but get involved in a recovery community right away.


How do you maintain sobriety at college? We want to know! Please comment or email us your story.


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