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‘Higher’ Education: Going Back to School Sober

For many young people, going away to college is a rite of passage that involves monumental changes and freedom to make choices for perhaps the first time in their lives. Most parents and students take for granted that substances, while not on the curriculum, are an anticipated part of the campus experience. Since many parents of today’s college students grew up in the 1960s and 70s – a time when drug culture thrived – parents may “normalize” drug use and overlook the importance of having a conversation with their children about making responsible decisions regarding drugs and alcohol.
college students studying

A National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study found that college drinking, particularly binge drinking, is widespread. Roughly four out of five college students drink alcohol, often with serious consequences ranging from accidental injury and assault to health and academic problems.

Choosing a College that Promotes Sobriety

When making choices about a child’s education, environment is an important consideration. The Princeton Review highlights the top 10 party schools and top 10 sober schools. The 2014 lists play out this way:

Top 10 Party Schools

1-      Ohio University

2-      University of Georgia

3-      University of Mississippi

4-      University of Iowa

5-      University of California- Santa Barbara

6-      West Virginia State

7-      Penn State

8-      Florida State

9-      University of Florida

10-  University of Texas


Top 10 Sober Schools

1-      Brigham Young

2-      Wheaton College

3-      College of the Ozarks

4-      Thomas Aquinas

5-      West Point U.S. Military Academy

6-      Grove City College

7-      Wesleyan University

8-      U.S. Coast Guard Academy

9-      U.S. Naval Academy

10-  Calvin College

Help in the Face of Resistance

It’s common for young people who get into drugs to resist the idea of sobriety. They are often compelled to attend treatment by their parents, school or legal system. Early on in treatment, it can be effective to do a cost-benefit analysis in which they list the ways in which their substance abuse has enhanced their lives and how it has caused harm. The positives range from “to loosen up, make friends and have fun” to “fitting in and avoiding feeling left out.” On the flip side, the negatives include “large investment of money and time, family conflicts, and embarrassment and guilt.”

Even in the face of those imbalances, some will state that they although they intend not to use their drug of choice, they will likely still indulge in substitutes. For many, the idea of returning to campus life sober is unimaginable, especially since the rest of their peer group is still probably using. Having at least begun the recovery process, the person has the opportunity to re-establish themselves and create a new identity, which is based on remaining sober.

Here are a few ideas for maintaining sobriety at college:

  • Brainstorm relapse prevention strategies with a parent or trusted advisor.
  • Locate 12 step meetings on or near campus and attend regularly.
  • Speak with close friends about the need to maintain sobriety and ask that they not drink/use in your presence.
  • Find sober activities that are enjoyable.
  • Seek the support of a competent therapist while at school.
  • Eat nutritious foods, exercise and get enough sleep.
  • Create new friendships that are not based on drug use, while letting go of those that are.
  • Learn and use effective stress management and emotional regulation techniques.
  • Volunteer or perform some type of community service to build meaning and purpose.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Make time for spiritual practice, if you have one or have an interest in cultivating one.
  • Learn a new hobby or skill.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Listen to music that is soothing.

Using these techniques may help smooth the way to a happy, sober graduation day.

Posted on July 29th, 2014
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

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