How to Navigate Being Sober in College

Being sober in college can be a big challenge for young people in recovery. College culture is often associated with the ideas of heavy partying, binge drinking, and doing drugs. Trying to maintain sobriety in this environment can feel isolating, difficult, and at times, stigmatizing. It’s enough to test anyone’s resolve, but for those of us who are just starting to navigate sober life, avoiding the temptation to relapse can feel nearly impossible.

Research among college students aged 18-22 found that almost 60% reported drinking in the past month, with two out of three saying they drank excessively. Meanwhile, one in four college students have admitted to experiencing consequences from drinking, such as falling behind in class, or damaging their grades.

By just glancing at the statistics above, it seems impossible to separate the drinking and partying culture from the college experience itself. But, it’s imperative to remember that college is not about drinking, and being sober in college doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll face judgment. Instead, these statistics show just how important it is for students in recovery to go into the school year with a plan and a support system in place.

How You Can Enjoy College While Staying Sober

Being sober in college doesn’t mean spending weekends sequestered in your dorm room instead of being out with your friends. Here are three tips to keep in mind for students in recovery who want to have a safe experience that’s still fun and memorable.

  1. Know your triggers

Every person in recovery knows that there are certain triggers that can lead to relapse. And, while you likely can’t stay away from all triggers all the time, it helps to be aware of what scenarios will trigger you. If you can see and understand these situations, then you can make a plan to avoid them, or deal with any potential issues.

  1. Find organizations that abstain from heavy drinking and/or drug use

The key is to look for organizations that don’t make drinking and drug use a huge part of their identity, and to not feel pressured to stick around if substance abuse does occur.

  1. Stay accountable

Confide in your sponsor or a friend, and have them help hold you accountable when you’re out. You could also consider taking on a supervisor role, such as an RA, to keep your priorities in check.  

Is it OK Not to Go to College Parties?

Yes! There is so much to do on and off campus that is unrelated to partying, and so many students who are also looking for the same thing. (Remember: if 60% of students are regularly drinking, then there’s still 40% who aren’t!)

Here are some distractions that can help:

Join sober groups or clubs – Many colleges offer a huge variety of clubs and organizations, and most of them don’t revolve around substance use. If you’re looking for a community but don’t want to go Greek, look to philanthropic groups, interest-driven groups, and sports as good alternatives. You can also strive to build your own sobriety club if your college doesn’t have one.  

Alcohol-free living – Some schools offer alcohol-free dorms where students get all of the comradery of college living on campus without the pressure to drink. See if your school has this option and if there’s a spot available.

Get a job – A job can be an excellent distraction, and as a bonus, it’s a great way to make some extra cash and get some experience during your studies.

Tap into your spiritual side – Meditate or attend religious services to center yourself and take a mental break from college life.

See a therapist – Having a therapist can be a huge relief for sober students. Check with your school’s counseling department to find out what your options are for mental health services.

Sobriety and a great college experience can absolutely go hand-in-hand. There are lots of ways to stay engaged and meet new people without bringing drugs or alcohol into the mix, and also a good deal of opportunities for obtaining mental health support on campus.

If your options are limited or you just need a higher level of care, please contact us to learn about our telehealth services. Wherever you are, we can work with you to ensure that your sobriety stays a front and center concern while you’re at college—and provide you with additional tools to stay on track.