Back to School: 5 Things You Should Know About Staying Sober in College

By The Fix staff 09/12/19

Avoiding drugs and alcohol can help you have a healthier, more productive college career.

sober college students seated in a circle on the grass

College is a time to focus on building your career, and getting the most our of the huge investment that you're making to get a degree. But too often, that focus gets lost among the pop culture messages that seem to scream that college is for one thing: partying. 

Students who are sober can feel like fish out of water on campus. However, this doesn't have to be the case. Although drinking -- specifically binge drinking -- is common on campus, more and more college students are opting to stay clean and sober. If you're headed back to school this fall, here’s what you should know about sobriety on campus. 

1. Being sober isn't as unusual as you might think.

Often, it seems like everyone on campus is drinking, but that's simply not true. Data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse found that in 2017 just over 56 percent of people age 18-25 reported using alcohol in the past month. That means that nearly half of all people in this age group are abstaining, at least temporarily. 

Racheal Doll, admissions director at Asana Recovery, which offers detox and treatment in Costa Mesa, California, says that movies and television shows make drinking and partying look a lot more common than they actually are during college. 

“Society and mainstream media has a huge role to play in why we associate college years as the ‘wild’ or ‘experimental’ time in someone's life, because for most people it may be the first time young adults haven't lived under their parents' roof,” she said. “This is what we see in movies and hear in songs but it doesn't have to be the rule.”

2. There's strength in numbers. 

Hearing about the rates of drinking on campus can be reassuring, but it does little to improve your confidence if everyone around you is partying. That's why Doll says it's important to connect with other students who are in recovery. 

“The important thing is to stick with the pack,” she says. “Find like-minded people, sober fellows, and stick with your routine. Continue to go to meetings and work with a sponsor.”

Recovery groups are common on campuses around the country. In addition, many colleges now offer sober dormitories, where students are committed to living in an environment without drugs or alcohol. Joining one of these communities can give you the confidence and framework to prioritize your recovery while you're in school.

3. Set boundaries before you need them. 

Especially when you're new on campus, it can be easy to fall into a risky situation where people are using drugs or alcohol. Before you find yourself in a bind, take time to think about what you'll do when these situations arise. Be honest with yourself, and set your boundaries ahead of time. 

Saying that you won't drink or use is easy. But it's also important to think about what your boundaries are when people are using around you. If you’re socializing and people start drinking, will you leave? What if your roommate wants to drink or use in your room? Considering these questions ahead of time will leave you better able to respond in the moment. 

4. Being sober can improve your college experience. 

If you're sober on campus you might initially feel like you’re missing out. However, that's not the case. Living without drugs and alcohol can improve your college experience, academically and socially. 

“Because you aren’t intoxicated or hungover you are aware and present, which allows you to fully absorb the knowledge you went there for in the first place,” Doll says. “It also allows you to really appreciate the experience with your friends. You will be able to remember and look back on all the great memories as opposed to having it all be a blur.”

Since you're not prioritizing partying, you'll be more likely to take advantage of sober events offered on campus, like concerts, art displays and other events. 

5. Help is nearby, if you need it. 

Although being sober on campus has perks, it can still be challenging. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or letting your recovery slip, reach out for help before things get out of control.

“There are many helpful resources/tools on campus which many students may not be aware of,” Doll says. "If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol just don't be afraid to ask for help.”

One of the most important resources on campus is the student health center, which can connect you with professionals who can help support your sobriety. If you're concerned about your mental or physical health, going to the health clinic is a great way to connect with resources that you may not have realized you had. 

Asana Recovery offers residential and outpatient treatment in Costa Mesa, California. Learn more by calling 949-438-4504.

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