Enrolling in College After Getting Sober

Student in a university campus with a books

Addiction affects people’s lives in different ways, usually destructive. But one thing addiction has in common for almost everyone is that it tends to derail the plans they make for their lives. One of the challenges of recovery is picking up where we left off.

 For many, this can mean enrolling in college after getting sober to finish an incomplete degree. For others, perhaps school never seemed like a viable option during active addiction. In recovery, getting an education can finally seem like a viable option.

Challenges of Going Back to College After Recovery

Going to college sober is a difficult project for those who are newly sober. The academic and social pressures that college involves can be overwhelming even for someone who isn’t grappling with addiction. According to NYU, stress is the number one impediment to academic success for college students. Being in recovery offers a unique set of stressful challenges that it is wise to prepare for.

Colleges often have a drinking culture

Just like highschool, college campuses are filled with people who are trying to have fun. For many this means drinking. Colleges are linked in the public imagination to rowdy parties filled with booze. In some cases, colleges even have a dangerous “blackout culture” where students are expected to drink to the point of alcohol poisoning.

 However, it is important to remember that there are plenty of people in college who do not drink or who don’t drink to excess. Yes, college is fun — but that fun doesn’t necessarily have to come from drinking or partying.

College is expensive

It’s worth saying twice. College is expensive. It’s an investment in the future. For two thirds of college students, this involves taking out loans. This can be a scary prospect, especially when ones financial prospects aren’t looking great.

 Others choose to work a job while they’re in college, either to pay for tuition entirely or to lessen the amount of debt accrued. While paying for college can seem scary, it pays to remember that earning a degree will increase your earning potential down the line. But beyond that, it will also enrich your quality of life.

Plus, think back to all the money you spent on booze and drugs before you got sober? Chances are you didn’t bat an eye when you spent that money.

College involves planning for the future

People in recovery, whether they have just a few days sober or 20 years, are often told to take things one day at a time. This is useful advice when it comes to staying sober. However, when it comes to rebuilding one’s life and planning a new career, it can seem difficult to apply. 

Ultimately, though, it is okay not to have everything all figured out. Perhaps all you know at this time is that you want to earn an education. It’s okay not to know where that will lead. You’ll figure it out.

College challenges the mind

While getting high or tripping on LSD can make you think you’re having amazing revelations, you’re probably just deluding yourself. In college, you might actually have some amazing revelations. It really is a trip. You might find yourself exposed to ideas and concepts that challenge your fundamental beliefs. 

These experiences come not just from professors, but from other students, who come from many different walks of life. Thinking in new ways can be difficult or painful at first. But the reward is a broadening of one’s consciousness and an ability to live a richer life.

Tips for Success for the Sober Student

  • Take it slowly — there’s no need to rush! While many students call the Bachelor’s degree a four year degree, most students take approximately 6 years to finish it.
  • Your sobriety should still come first. How can you earn a degree if you relapse?
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is on a different path. It’s okay if your peers in college are younger than you. Maybe they’re “ahead” in an academic sense, but you likely have a lot of experience to offer.
  • Get involved on campus. There’s more to campus life than binge drinking. Join an organization, play a team sport, or get involved in student government. You’ll meet other young people and your social life will thank you. And there’s a chance these activities could look good on a resume as well.
  • Look into your college’s recovery center. You can use these resources to meet other students in recovery.

Finding Support

For those who are struggling in college currently because of a substance abuse problem, there’s no shame in taking a break. Taking the time to get back on track in a sober living home such as Design for Recovery can be an important step in one’s academic career

Many people find that they are successfully able to attend classes while living in one of these supportive environments. Doing so can enable one to master important academic skills as well as maintain long term sobriety.

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