We have a rating category for the top ten party universities in America. College is universally accepted as the great escape from parental restrictions on drug and alcohol use. And the mere phrase ‘spring break’ conjures up images in our heads of scantily clad college kids and Jell-o shots on the beach.
Alcohol and drug use data support this disturbing picture. While statistics from several government health and welfare agencies, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), show that college binge-drinking is at an all-time low, marijuana use among college students is the highest it has been in 35 years. In 2018, 45 percent of students reported using an illicit drug, 75 percent drank alcohol, and 38 percent reported being drunk at least once in the month before the survey. It would seem college is the last place you’d want to be while trying to recover from a drug or alcohol addiction.
There is a lot of good news out there for the student who wants to start or continue their college education in a safer recovery environment. Several universities are designated as ‘dry’ campuses, meaning alcohol consumption is not allowed on campus even if students are of legal age. One example is the University of Utah, which prohibits drinking anywhere on campus. Another example is Brigham Young University, a private religious university with a well-known reputation for sobriety, both on and off-campus. Dry campuses encourage students to participate in campus activities and sports instead of partying.
Also, several college campuses are taking drug and alcohol offenses more seriously by offering increased mental health and addiction services, amnesty policies for reporting alcohol and drug-related emergencies, and enforced enrollment in alcohol and drug safety programs for offenders. Universities are trying to focus on addressing students’ needs instead of aggressively prosecuting them for violations of school rules and policies.
A growing number of on-campus sobriety programs throughout the nation also challenges the stereotype that college is only a place for overindulgence. In fact, the University of Utah’s Recover @ the U program is a hallmark example of what a successful collegiate sobriety effort looks like. The program lobbied for, and was awarded, $100,000 in state money to support its recovery efforts, which include acquiring and furnishing a drop-in center, staff support, and scholarships for students in recovery. Some critical components of a good college sobriety program include:
- Dedicated university staff to take ownership of the program
- Physical space on campus for meetings and events
- The adoption of abstinence-based recovery
- An active community of students in recovery to offer peer support
- Recovery protection and support services
Sobriety groups offer safe spaces for students in recovery where they can de-stress, connect with peers, and enjoy the college experience without substance abuse. When sobriety groups are not available on campus, consider getting involved in a local 12-Step support group off-campus. Chances are, you might find some of your fellow students there, maybe even enough to start your own sobriety club or organization on campus.
If you discover you have a problem while in school, you may decide you need to attend a residential detox program full-time. Or you may choose to go to an outpatient treatment center. Either way, there are advantages to continuing with school while you work on recovery. Doing both simultaneously, though difficult, lets you continue with your life during your rehabilitation. Thus, you avoid the “taking a break” phase of education from which many students never return. Staying enrolled, either online or in-person, also gives you a reprieve to think about something other than your rehabilitation. Memorizing classical music selections for that Humanities quiz might be just what you need after spending several hours working through difficult emotions with your therapist. Renaissance Ranch, a Utah-based addiction treatment center, offers both inpatient and outpatient treatment options designed to help you stay engaged in your schooling or whatever else you need to do while in recovery.
Another challenge for the recovering student is money. How can you afford school AND treatment? With college expenses ranging anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 per year, you may think recovery treatment that costs hundreds of dollars a day is just not possible. Again, we have good news. With the increase in mental health services at universities, more students now have access to individual and group therapy support at very nominal student rates. Additionally, educational and other support activities offered in the community and on campus are usually free.
If you find that you need a more comprehensive recovery program, check with your insurance first (or your parents’ insurance, if you’re not yet self-insured). Many recovery center programs, including Renaissance Ranch, take insurance, and that can trim your total costs by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Asking for help from parents and other family members is another option. Trying to juggle work, school, and rehab is too much for anyone to handle, so reaching out to your support network is critical. If you don’t have insurance and you have no one to help you financially, your community should have some no-cost addiction recovery programs in place. As with any mental health service, it’s best to get on their list right away, as wait times for treatment have increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Interrupting your schooling or adding a recovery program to an existing class load may seem less than ideal, but you have to think of this as an investment in yourself. The time and effort, and maybe money, you put into your recovery now will allow you to break the hold addiction has on your future.