5 Tips For Staying Sober In College

By Beth Leipholtz 07/13/18

At the end of the day, the college experience is about so much more than just alcohol.

college girl
I won’t lie, maintaining a social life while being sober in college wasn’t easy.

For most people, college is not associated with sobriety.

Such was the case for me during the first two years I spent away from home. I drank often and partied hard, convincing myself that it was normal. I liked to be the one outdoing everyone else, thought there was some badge of honor I could earn by doing so. And honestly, I had a blast—until I didn’t. I didn’t realize this right away, but I drank differently than my peers. While they knew how and when to stop, I didn’t. I all too often crossed from having fun to being a sloppy, drunk mess, saying and doing things I regretted come morning light.

It all came to a head at the end of my sophomore year, when I ended up hospitalized with a .34 blood alcohol content. My parents gave me an ultimatum: get sober, or I wasn’t allowed back home for the summer. I went along with getting sober, never planning for it to actually be something I stuck with. I wasn’t even 21 and was still in college. Who got sober in college? I didn’t know of anyone, and I didn’t intend to be that person.

But as time passed and I refrained from drinking, I realized that I felt good, both physically and emotionally. I liked being in control of my actions, knowing what happened the night before. It felt freeing. So, I ran with the whole sobriety thing, staying sober my junior and senior year of college, and now, for the three years following college.

I won’t lie, maintaining a social life while being sober in college wasn’t easy. In fact, at times it was one of the hardest things I’ve done. But it is possible. Along the way I discovered a number of tricks that helped remind me why I was sober and made it easier to stay that way. Here are a few:

  1. Be honest with the people close to you. Sobriety isn’t easy. But it’s even harder when you try to do it alone. It’s understandable that telling people about your decision to stop drinking is scary. It’s not something very many people choose to be open about, especially in college. But if you can, pick two or three people you are close to and tell them the truth. Tell them why you decided to get sober and why it's important to you to maintain that sobriety. If they ask how they can help, tell them. Express what you need, what makes you feel supported. They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t genuinely care and want to do what is best for you. Give people the chance to surprise you with their support, because they often will.

  1. Make self-care a priority. It’s easy to let self-care fall to the side in college. You get so busy with classes, with friends, with study groups, with sports, that you forget to take time for yourself. This is always important, but even more so when you are sober. In sobriety, you need to know when and how to take time for yourself. This means different things for different people. For one person, it may be a bubble bath and reading a book for fun. For another, it could be working out, or journaling, or attending 12-step meetings. Whatever the case, make sure you identify what it is you need and make it a priority in your schedule.

  1. Remind yourself you won’t be hungover come morning. For some reason, this was always a powerful tool for me. Just knowing how physically awful hangovers felt and how unproductive they made me for the entire next day was usually enough to quell any desire for a drink. When I first got sober, someone told me hangovers are actually a form of withdrawals from alcohol, which is why mine had been getting progressively worse. Reminding myself that the morning would be clear and I would be able to be productive and reach my full potential always brought me back to reality when I found myself wishing I could drink with my college friends.

  1. Connect with sober peers. Though it’s somewhat unlikely you will find these people in college, it’s not impossible. But if you don’t, there are other options. Because I went to a semi-small college, there were no other people my age who had gotten sober. But by going to some 12-step meetings and joining online communities, I was able to connect with people who shared my experiences and who were in situations similar to mine. Having that connection with others in recovery is vital in moments when you need support and understanding, or even need someone to tell you it just isn’t worth it to pick up a drink.

  1. Remember that the main reason for college is to receive an education—an expensive one, at that. This may sound odd, but for some reason it really helped me when I was wishing I could have a “normal” college experience and drink with my friends. I found it helpful to remind myself that first and foremost I was at college to get an education so I could pursue the career I wanted to pursue. College is not a cheap investment by any means. If I had continued to drink at the rate I had been, I likely would have wasted a good amount of money and not received the quality education I had hoped to attain at the college I chose. But today, I can say I got the most out of my education (the last two years of it at least) because I was fully present and invested.

At the end of the day, the college experience is about so much more than just alcohol. Sure, at times this may be hard to remember. There will be days when it may seem like everyone around you is drinking or talking about drinking. It’s easy to feel left out, like you’re missing out on a college rite of passage. But that’s not true. These are the days it’s important to remind yourself why you set out to live a sober life and why it’s important for you to continue to do so.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.