Going Back to College During Recovery

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As classes resume in the fall, you may find that academic stressors are depreciating your mental health. Returning to the routine of school may prove to be more stressful for individuals in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD) and comorbid disorders like depression and anxiety. Since completing rehab and enrolling in recovery programs, your goals, motivations, and strategies to achieve may have changed. Once you return to campus, it’s important to locate resources, such as mental health counseling and personal support groups, to promote sobriety, prevent unhealthy behaviors, and accompany you on your recovery journey. 

Student Life With a SUD

The stereotypical “college experience” often entails constant partying and drinking in excess. Social pressure to engage in drug and alcohol culture causes binge drinking among student populations. Constant substance use and abuse can lead to addiction; however, few students recognize addictive behaviors in themselves or peers, and an even smaller percentage seek help for SUD symptoms. A 2009 study found that, among nearly 1,000 students at a public university, 46.8% met DSM-IV criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) or SUD involving marijuana. Of this population, only 3.6% of students perceived a need for help with substance abuse.

A 2020 study published by the College of Charleston in South Carolina assessed “the relationships between substance-specific descriptive norms (perceptions of peer use), injunctive norms (perceptions of peer approval), perceived availability, risk perceptions and past year use of cocaine, designer drugs, prescription stimulants, and opioids.” The results show that nonmedical prescription stimulants were abused by over one-fifth of respondents within the past year and habitual users of marijuana are at higher risk of substance abuse involving other drugs. This study suggests that even substances perceived to be low-risk, such as alcohol and marijuana, can lead to abuse of other illegal substances. 

Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and “party drugs” like ecstasy are not the only addictive substances to circulate among college students. Study aids like Adderall are also pervasive on campuses. When taken without a prescription, these drugs are addictive and dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms include fever and insomnia and can cause physical and mental damage.

Addiction Center reports that college students are at high risk for the development of co-occurring disorders such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and bipolar depressive disorder. SUD consumes a student’s life, and few students can complete their education while struggling with substance reliance and related disorders. To treat the SUD, students need to focus on their mental health rather than their academic life. Only after completing initial treatment in a rehabilitation facility and consulting with a health professional should a student in recovery return to campus.

Coping Strategies

Keep your course load low

 Whether you take classes online or in-person, at night or during the day, with peers or individually, you need to consider the weight of your course load. Start with one or two classes that pique your interest. The stress of a five- or six-class semester may trigger a negative emotional response, increasing your risk of relapse and poor mental health. By minimizing your course load, you will be able to devote more time to the subjects that matter to you. Additionally, you will have enough time to continue your recovery program and join any community organizations.

Stop comparing yourself to other students

 Unhealthy comparisons between yourself and your peers can damage your self-esteem and undermine your achievements in your non-academic life. You have accomplished an incredible feat by graduating from your rehabilitation program and, in choosing to return to school, you have decided to pursue a new challenge, thereby exhibiting personal growth and drive to improve. Some classmates may earn higher grades or take more classes, but their successes do not discount yours. Celebrate yourself and the incredible things that you are doing in school! Condescending peers who boast about their GPA, campus involvement, or professional opportunities and discredit your efforts do not deserve your time. Always be aware of those who support you and those who do not.

Explore your interests

Your previous academic experience may have been governed by poor mental health and exacerbated by habitual substance abuse. Now you have the opportunity to get involved in clubs, classes, and other groups on campus that share your interests. Joining support groups, exercise classes, or other student organizations will provide you with an outlet for self-expression. Above all, becoming a member of a community will be fun! Enjoy your favorite activities surrounded by like-minded peers.

Trust yourself! You are resilient and dedicated and there are no obstacles that you cannot overcome without the proper tools. At Silver Lining Recovery, we will provide you with a holistic treatment program tailored to suit your specific needs. Our team of dedicated mental health professionals will walk with you as you take the first steps in recovery. We want you to feel confident in yourself and your sobriety inside the facility and, after completion of the program, in your daily life. If you’re interested in joining our recovery community, please call us today at (866) 448-4563 for a consultation.