Sobriety and Higher Education
One of the many beautiful things about recovery is that it gives us a second chance to do what we’ve always dreamed we’d do. No matter how far we may have fallen, we can always get up.
Pursuing higher education is often one of the first things people decide to do when they become sober. Whether you’re in the market for personal development or to improve your job prospects, going to college can be a very rewarding experience.
That being said, student life isn’t completely stress-free. In order to deal with the challenges that higher education throws at you, it’s important to have developed good coping skills. There are ways to make stress work for you.
Student life also takes up a great deal of time and energy. This carries the danger that you may start putting more time into your education than you put into your recovery. Remember that a quality education would probably not be possible were it not for your recovery. Maintaining your sobriety should always take priority when it comes to managing your life on campus.
Pursuing a higher education doesn’t necessarily mean that the onus is put completely on you, however. There are institutions that offer what are called “dry college campuses,” where the emphasis is on the learning rather than the drinking. Let’s take a closer look at these schools.
Best Colleges for Recovering Addicts and Alcoholics
It’s unsurprising that the most “stone-cold sober schools” in the nation are either Christian or military schools. By their nature, these institutions beget a sober lifestyle.
There is, however, evidence to support that even among institutions that have no religious or military affiliation, drinking affects performance. According to a 2011 study of 11 universities in Wisconsin, individuals who binge drink have lower GPAs.
So if binge drinking or drinking in general provides too great a temptation, there are options to attend sober college campuses. According to a study compiled by the Princeton Review, the top five “stone-cold sober schools” in the nation were:
- Brigham Young University: Located in Provo, Utah, Brigham Young has been labeled the number one sober university for 17 years running, likely because of the Mormon faith’s no-alcohol edict. This top-tier university is known for its sociology, medical, and agriculture programs.
- Wheaton College: Situated just west of Chicago, this small Christian college is known more for tapping root-beer kegs and focused studying. All undergraduates must sign a mandatory “community covenant” that says they won’t drink or smoke.
- US Military Academy West Point: West Point is at the top of the military college pyramid. This is where future generals and admirals earn their education stripes. The strictly enforced and regimented nature of study at West Point does not lend to hard partying or binge drinking.
- Calvin College: Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Calvin College was founded in 1876 by the Christian Reformed Church. The college itself is named after John Calvin, a 16th-century Protestant Reformer and is known for its extensive liberal arts program.
- Thomas Aquinas College: Having a foundation of solid Catholic principles means you pursue your education with piety. Also known for an excellent liberal arts program, Thomas Aquinas College ensures you get your degree before you get your drunk.
You’re probably wondering if you’ll have to go to a military or Christian school to stay sober. Don’t worry; you won’t if you don’t want to. There are a good number of colleges and universities that go out of their way to make sure your education remains recovery friendly.
One example is Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1988, Rutgers began what many believe was the first example of domestic arecovery program on a college campus. The sprawling campus has two sets of unmarked recovery dorms and boasts a number of groups and activities geared toward recovering students.
Other schools, from Case Western Reserve to Augsburg College, provide separate housing for recovering students. Students attending the University of Michigan can choose a “recovery room” from the list of options on the student life drop-down menu. Texas Tech University recently claimed over $900,000 in federal grants to help them build programs for recovering students. Now they put first-year students on their own floor.
There are cases, however, when you may not want to attend a military or Christian school but don’t have the resources to attend a first- or second-tier school, either. If you can’t attend one of the best colleges for recovering addicts, what do you do?
Sober Activities for College Students
The amount of activities available to college students is overwhelming. If you think attending college is all about drinking and partying, think again.
There are countless civic groups, clubs, athletic teams, activities, and interest groups available on college campuses. Your area of study also provides a good number of groups to consider. Are you majoring in theater? Perhaps joining the university or college theater group would not only be fun, but it would contribute to your education.
Next time you tell yourself that college life is boring without drugs or alcohol, consider the following options:
- Recovery groups: It’s almost guaranteed that you won’t be the only person on campus who’s in recovery. Look around for groups of like-minded people who will support you in both your education and your recovery.
- Spiritual or religious groups: Whether you’re religious or not, there are spiritual groups available to help you stay connected with your inner divinity, whatever that may mean to you.
- Study groups and topic-specific clubs: No matter what your major is, there’s likely a study group meeting to discuss the curriculum. If you’re studying photography, chances are there’s a club for that. These groups are easy ways to meet other like-minded people, enhance your skills, and get some work done!
- Athletic clubs: Whether recreational or competitive, participating in athletic activities gets your adrenaline pumping in the healthiest kind of way. Meeting new people on the pitch is a great way to do some sober networking.
- Music clubs: Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to play an instrument to be part of a music club. Some university campuses have clubs dedicated to discussing music, rather than playing it.
- Culture clubs: Whatever your background may be, most college campuses have groups catering to cultural interests that speak to your ancestry. If you’re looking to join a club that touches you at your roots, check for cultural activity committees.
- Outdoor clubs: There’s a good number of other people on campus who love the occasional jog, bike ride, or hike. Mother Nature works wonders for those in recovery, so check for clubs that cater to your adventurous side!
- Philanthropic clubs: The sense of satisfaction you get from helping people is hard to quantify. Many colleges and universities have clubs whose sole purpose is to get out in the community and help others. These types of activities are incredibly therapeutic for those in recovery.
- College publications: Do you love to write? Are you a journalist at heart? Flex your creative muscle and wet your word whistle by joining a college newsletter, newspaper or magazine.
- Student politics: Every center for higher education has student body presidents, treasurers, and so on. These political groups get you out there socializing with other like-minded members of the student body.
While there are a great number of clubs for those looking to increase their social footprint and discover sober activities, sometimes you just want to be alone, especially if you share a dorm with someone. Just remember that wanting to be alone isn’t the same as isolating.
Even during our alone time, we should try to keep ourselves occupied and involved with healthy activities. There’s a reason people say an idle mind does the devil’s work.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out what to do when you’ve got some time to yourself, consider the following:
- Exercise: Exercising releases many of the same endorphins and chemicals that are released when drugs are involved. Exercise provides a natural high that’s good for you. Getting active is a quick and easy way to make sure you’re staying physically and mentally healthy.
- Meditation: When stress asks a difficult question, meditation provides an easy answer. Meditation is great for quieting a restless mind.
- Reading: Sometimes there’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book. Whether you’re reading for an assignment or just for fun, the one time getting lost is good is when it’s in a story.
- Journaling: There’s a reason why people in recovery are always reminded to keep a journal. When you’re journaling, you’re talking to yourself and working through your anxieties. Putting pen to paper and “getting it out” is not only a healthy sober activity, it’s also therapeutic.
Whether you’re by yourself or in a group, there’s still one activity that may worry you. It’s one you will likely be able to avoid, but you should still be prepared for if it arises.
Staying Sober at College Parties
If you’re in recovery, the first recommendation will always be to avoid “wet places,” which are places where alcohol or drugs may be involved. There’s a reason it’s said that if you go to the barbershop often enough you will eventually get a haircut.
Even so, avoiding all college parties or events where there may be temptation is a tall order. It’s important to take special care when attending such events.
If you need to attend an event that you can’t avoid and you expect drugs or alcohol to be present, keep relapse at bay by doing the following:
- Bring a sober friend: It’s true, there is safety in numbers. Having someone with you who can hold you accountable is a good decision.
- Drink something non-alcoholic: If you’re walking around without a drink, people may try to give you one. Whether it’s a glass of water, soda, or juice, keep your hands occupied with a non-alcoholic beverage.
- Be ready: You never know when a trigger may arise or a too-drunk partygoer wants to force you to drink. If you’re feeling the relapse heat, don’t hesitate to remove yourself from the party fire.
- Leave early: Ever heard of anyone saying they’re going just to show their face? Remember, the longer a party goes on, the more drunk people will become. There’s nothing wrong with getting in, and then getting out.
Staying sober in college doesn’t mean you can’t ever attend social events where people may be intoxicated. While it’s prudent to keep your presence at such events to a minimum, you can take pride in being there.
There’s also nothing wrong with being the sober one at a party. Remember, you’ll be judged less for staying composed and having a good, sober time than you would blacking out and doing something you’ll regret in front of all your classmates.
You Can Do It!
Staying sober in college may seem daunting, but it can be done. Pursuing your education and getting a degree is an incredible experience. The pride you get from that achievement is a natural high that no drug-induced high can match.
Always keep in mind that it doesn’t matter how well you’re doing in school; there’s never a time when you’re well enough to drink or do drugs. Being proud of your educational achievements doesn’t mean that it’s time to throw down the gauntlet and have a huge, booze-filled party.
If you need assistance figuring out your path, either to or from treatment, 12 Keys can help. We’ve worked with people in different stages of their education and know what it takes to succeed in school. For more information on how our services can work for you, give us a call today!