Graduation hats held up to sky

Back to school season finds students flocking to college campuses to begin or resume their higher learning experience. With all of the social and academic pressures involved with collegiate life, how do students in recovery avoid triggers and maintain their sobriety?

Outside of academic demands, the college experience is often synonymous with parties where drugs and alcohol are freely available. Students get their first real taste of freedom and often push boundaries.

Sometimes those newfound freedoms can lead to bad decisions. In 2015, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found 41 percent of college students use illegal drugs. Without a strong recovery program, that kind of environment can easily trigger relapse.

The Sober Student: Five Strategies

The following best practices can help students in recovery enjoy the college experience while maintaining their sobriety:

1. Plan Ahead

Have a recovery support system and program in place when you arrive on campus. There are several 12 step and other sober programs available on college campuses. Do your research and find a system that works for you. Sign up for sober social events, and participate in organizations like AA and NA on campus or in the surrounding community. Build your courses and study time around your recovery schedule. Consider sober living instead of a dorm. Recovery should always come first.

2. Be Prepared

Academic stress is unavoidable but it is manageable. Build a strong stable of coping skills and stress management techniques before you arrive in class. Learn how to manage stress effectively through meditation, practicing gratitude, and exercise. Have a plan to combat triggers before they present.

3. Stay Focused

Focus on the larger goals of why you are on campus. By staying true to your academic goals, you can avoid the pitfalls that detour so many students from fulfilling their responsibilities and achieving their best. Build a sober study group, create a manageable but dedicated academic work plan, or sign up for tutoring when feeling overly challenged. It is important not to overload your schedule; when selecting your courses, be mindful of the probable time commitment outside of the classroom.

4. Get Healthy

In addition to staying physically active, maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for anyone in recovery. Most people do not have a healthy diet during college. Students skip regular meals, while the meals they do have include heavy doses of fast food, frozen pizzas, unhealthy snacks and energy drinks. These unhealthy eating practices could hinder your recovery. Start with a healthy eating and nutrition plan that will fuel your academic – and recovery – success.

5. Have Fun

College life presents many opportunities for sober fun. From intramural sports leagues and student clubs to volunteer opportunities and special events, the options are endless. Join a kickball team, sign up to advocate for issues you care about, enhance your academic expertise by joining a club rooted in your favorite subject or attend a symposium. Make your own fun and find friends that share your interests.

Remember that recovery provides the opportunity to enhance your college experience in entertaining, powerful and hopeful ways. Make every effort to leverage your ongoing support community and recovery plan. It will empower you to have some fun while staying focused on your recovery journey and academic success.