How to Survive College Without Making a Habit of Abusing Drugs or Alcohol

Staying sober in college can be difficult for many students, particularly those who have struggled with addiction in the past or who travel in circles where alcohol and drugs are frequently used and widely available. But there is a path you can take that will you help you to stay sober throughout your college tenure.

The best news, though, is you can still have a lot of fun in college, while following a more sober path all the way. There are no rules that say you have to have drugs or alcohol to have fun — and certainly no guarantee you will have fun with them. At least not the kind of fun that makes good memories for a lifetime.

Prevalence of Substance Abuse on College Campuses

Is substance abuse a big problem on college campuses? According to the Wall Street Journal, students between the ages of 18 and 24 represent the fastest-growing demographic of those seeking treatment for drug abuse. Providers of treatment for substance abuse claim that the number of treatment seekers in the 18 to 24 age range more than doubled between 2000 and 2009.

drinking on college campuses

The article goes on to warn that the number of instances of heavy alcohol use — meaning students consumed five or more drinks on five or more occasions within the past 30 days — is highest among people between the ages of 20 and 22. Even within that demographic, college students are responsible for the heaviest consumption amounts.

The University of Minnesota takes the problem of binge drinking, in particular, quite seriously. They’ve even identified risk factors, beginning as early as high school, indicating a potential problem with binge drinking.

These binge-drinking risk factors are as follows:

  • Antisocial tendencies
  • Caucasian
  • Drinking as a coping mechanism
  • History of drinking to excess
  • Low GPA
  • Male gender

The university goes on to report that many students view drinking during college as a normal and temporary part of the college experience, which makes many predictive indicators difficult to follow.

12 Tips to Help You Stay Drug-Free and Sober in College

Take the following advice to heart so you’ll never have to wonder why it’s essential to stay sober in college.

1. Make Friends With Like-Minded People

There are many college students who have no interest in going to drunken parties and taking drugs. While movies and the media portray college students gone wild on spring break or at major fraternity blowouts, most college students are there to learn. They are there to obtain a degree they’re passionate about in hopes of getting a job in their chosen field, making a living and building dreams of their own.

no interest in drunken parties

The people you especially don’t want to hang out with on the weekends are the ones who play drinking games for fun or are already looking for ways to skip out on studying in pursuit of their next highs.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t able to let your hair down, so to speak, and have a good time. It only means you don’t actually need or want drugs and alcohol and would prefer to remain sober in the process.

There are other students who feel this way as well, and these are the friends you should seek and work hard to keep through all of your time in college and beyond. College is an opportunity to make lifelong friends and build lasting relationships.

How do you know who they are? Look around the dorms on Friday nights and see who’s hitting the books or pursuing other entertainment that doesn’t include alcohol or drugs. These are the people you’ll want to make friends with.

Also consider making friends with those who share your hobbies. Whether it is video games, chess, fashion or sports that float your boat, college is an excellent pool where you can find all kinds of people. This is especially true if you know what you’re looking for — and what you’re not.

If all else fails, ask potential friends if they’re into the party scene or not. Most people will answer truthfully, as they also prefer to build friendships with people who have similar interests in that regard.

2. Be Comfortable Saying No

Part of staying sober in college means it’s ok to say no when someone offers you alcohol or controlled substances, whether it’s at an off-campus party or somewhere on campus. You don’t have to participate in these activities in order to have a good time wherever you’re going.

Why is it so important to say no?

Drinking on college campuses is a widespread problem: Four of every five college students consume alcohol, and nearly half of those who drink binge drink, according to the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The problem doesn’t begin and end with the consumption of alcohol, though — even drinking alcohol to excess.

alcohol related deaths

These are some of the other numbers associated with alcohol among college students:

alcohol related assaults

In addition to these unpleasant numbers, the NIAAA reports that nearly 25 percent of college students experience academic consequences from their drinking in the form of missing classes, falling behind on work or simply performing poorly all around. There are also countless cases of health problems, depression and suicide attempts related to alcohol or substance abuse.

3. Join Sober Groups on Campus

In an effort to address the growing needs of students struggling with past or present substance abuse problems, many college campuses are creating sober groups on campus that serve as information centers and social circles for students who wish to lead sober lives while enjoying the college experience.

These centers offer counseling, education, games, activities and academic support to help students sustain their recovery while getting their education. Many of these organizations even offer 12-step meetings for students.

For people who have struggled with addiction in the past, or those who are worried about abusing drugs or alcohol in college, it should be a priority to focus your search for a higher learning institution on those that offer sober living programs for students.

In fact, you might want to prioritize according to the resources available in these programs and find the one that offers the most confidence according to your individual needs and struggles.

4. Set Goals and Work to Achieve Them

There’s nothing quite like a solid goal you’re working toward to keep you motivated and single-minded in your effort to succeed. In other words, if your mind is devoted to a singular pursuit, you have little time left over to even consider allowing alcohol or drugs to get a toe-hold.

be driven to succeed

While it may not be recommended to wrap your entire life around a specific goal, it is a good idea to be driven to achieve and succeed. That leaves little extra time for recreational alcohol or substance abuse — much less binge drinking.

5. Stay Busy

The college experience may very well be one of the best in your life. And staying busy is one of the best tips on how to stay sober in college. There are plenty of things to provide distractions from urges to consume alcohol or use drugs. In fact, you really can’t walk out the door of your room without tripping over some sort of event, party or invitation if you live in dorms. Even if you live off campus, though, there are plenty of on-campus events to keep you busy as often as you’d like.

These are just some of the ways you can stay busy while avoiding alcohol and the temptation to indulge in alcohol or drugs:

  • Work. Get a part-time job. This will not only help you fill hours in your day, but it will also provide you a little extra money to cover expenses and luxuries while you’re in college. A part-time job during college also helps you gain practical work experience that will give you an edge over others who have no actual work experience on their resumes upon graduation. It’s even better if you can find a part-time job or paying internship in your chosen field. Those can often turn into full-time positions upon graduation.
  • Volunteer. If you’re not willing to commit set hours of your life each week to a part-time job, or you have no need for extra money, consider volunteering. Doing this allows you to give to others who are less fortunate and keeps your hands and mind busy. Choose wisely and avoid volunteering in situations that may prove too stressful for you, as that might increase a desire to drink to forget or deal with the stress.

try out for a sports team

  • Play sports. Try out for a sports team at your college. If you’re not able to commit that kind of time, energy and effort to your sport of choice, consider joining an intramural team. Most colleges have plenty of those. Not only will this help keep your body conditioned and fit, but it is also a great way to let off some steam, de-stress and have a great time in the process. Good, clean activities like this, that are also fun, are what college life is all about — besides learning, of course.
  • Join a band. If you play a musical instrument, college bands provide a close-knit family away from home while you’re in college. Participating in a marching and/or concert band is also time-consuming. Practicing the violin or flute, for example, fills up many hours in your day and gives you an opportunity to form close ties to your bandmates. Some colleges even have floors reserved for band members to help solidify those bonds. Just remember to choose your band friends wisely too, and avoid those who live their lives in pursuit of the next party.
  • Find something better to binge on. Alcohol is only one thing people binge on. There are far better binge-worthy pursuits on Netflix these days than those at the nearest frat house.
  • Get involved in a drama group. Most colleges offer many opportunities for the budding star in everyone to take to the stage. There are drama groups and open casting calls for plays throughout the year. Practices and performances take up a great deal of time and can be a lot of fun for everyone involved.
  • Join the choir. Most colleges offer large concert choirs as well as smaller ensemble choirs you can participate in. Between daily practices and a busy performance schedule, it’s easy to invest a lot of time in the choir you choose.
  • Consider joining a LARP gaming group. LARP, or live action role playing, games are a lot of fun and can be quite educational. If there isn’t a sober group on your campus, consider creating one of your own. Most groups meet once or twice per week and spend hours of the evening pursuing specific goals in a fantasy environment. Most people think of LARP games as medieval themed, but there are plenty of others including pirates, ancient Rome, ancient Greece, Vikings and modern urban themes to consider as well.

get involved with time to study

Of course, the key is to get involved in a few activities while leaving plenty of time to study. The last thing you want is to overload yourself and find that you simply cannot keep up with your classes. That might lead to stress-induced alcohol or substance abuse problems. It’s a fine balance, but you need to be willing to walk away from any activities that prevent you from getting the education you’re in college to receive.

6. Choose an Alcohol/Drug-Free Campus

It is true that choosing an alcohol/drug-free campus does not necessarily eliminate the opportunity to find parties that include drugs and/or alcohol entirely. It does diminish them significantly, however, as they cannot be publically advertised on these campuses.

The other benefit, of course, is that many of the other students on campus are attending for similar reasons — they don’t want to be exposed to a culture where alcohol and binge drinking are so pervasive. This means it’ll be much easier to find like-minded people who aren’t interested in drinking and partying to hang out with.

The Princeton Review ranks the most sober schools in the U.S. on their Stone Cold Sober list. Brigham Young University (BYU) has held top spot on this list for the past 18 years.

Other schools to make the list include:

  • Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • City University of New York – City College, New York, New York
  • College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Missouri
  • Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Needham, Massachusetts
  • Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, California
  • U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut
  • U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York
  • U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
  • University of Houston, Houston, Texas
  • Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois

avoid situations with alcohol

The good news is there are plenty of college campuses making commitments to keeping alcohol and drugs off the main menu on campus. The bad news, though, is these campuses are not as likely to have support systems in place for students who need them. If you’re already struggling with addiction, keep this in mind and look for support systems within the community and near the college. Nevertheless, choosing an alcohol and drug-free college campus is a great tip on how to stay sober in college.

7. Choose to Live off Campus or Live at Home

These choices take much of the temptation to party away. It becomes more inconvenient, not to mention riskier, when you have to drive home after the party. At the very least, it will reduce the inclination to binge drink. At best, it will eliminate the temptation to drink at all. The problem with living on campus is that alcohol seems to be widely available everywhere. When you don’t live on campus, it becomes more difficult — and expensive — to get access to alcohol, especially for those under the age of 21.

8. Have Alcohol-Free Dates

Ensuring there is no alcohol on dates not only helps you to avoid drinking, but it also keeps your date sober as well. This is especially a good idea because so many sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults are related to alcohol consumption.

sexual assaults on college campuses

9. Choose Healthy Living Habits

The more time and energy you spend investing in a healthy lifestyle, the less time you have left over to indulge in things that are decidedly unhealthy. It’s about prioritizing things in your life, and now is the perfect time to establish these positive habits.

  • Make sleep a priority. Get at least seven and a half to eight hours of sleep each night. It might seem tough — especially when exams are looming large, but getting a proper amount of sleep will do more for your test scores than an all-nighter spent cramming for exams.
  • Eat healthy. This is a great rule of thumb for college students. It may be difficult with junk food so widely available, but making healthy food a priority will not only help you stave off the infamous freshman 15, but it will also help you stay healthy, keep your head on straight and avoid the heavy grogginess that fatty foods ultimately cause.
  • Stay active. Exercising and staying active will also help you avoid gaining weight your first time away from home and help keep your blood flowing throughout your body — especially to your brain.

10. Skip Organizations That Promote Excessive Drinking

Unfortunately, the Greek system on many college campuses has become synonymous with binge drinking and excessive partying. If you feel you must participate in order to have a complete college experience, choose wisely and look for fraternities or sororities that lack a serious party reputation. The key is to avoid situations in which you feel compelled to drink altogether, so it is best to avoid them completely if possible.

avoid situations with alcohol

11. Make Sobriety a Priority

It really does come down to prioritizing your life in college. Making sobriety your number-one priority will make so many other things easier to accomplish. Most importantly, it will help to ensure that your college experience is not only memorable, but also successful. You will have much greater odds of achieving success in college if you approach the experience soberly and remain sober throughout your experience.

12. Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Last, but certainly not least, if you begin to suspect you have a problem with alcohol or drugs or if you’re beginning to see your grades suffer because you can’t seem to give up drinking or partying, the time to seek treatment for alcohol addiction is now.

Getting the right help at the right time will make all the difference in the world for your road to recovery. Contact 12 Keys Rehab today for compassionate care and treatment for your alcohol or substance abuse addiction. Our program is custom tailored to meet your needs and provide you with the support you need to take back control of your life and your education. You can survive college without abusing alcohol or other drugs. We can help.

The Addiction Blog