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Getting a “HIGHER” Education – Drugs and College


Drugs and CollegesAt CAST Recovery, many young individuals come in seeking chemical-dependency treatment with the hopes of entering or returning to college or furthering their education.  They face a larger challenge than the average college hopeful or college student who took a break and is hoping to return to class: staying sober.  The college student culture, at least on campus, is often submersed in drug and alcohol use.

My experience with college, residential life, class projects, and often attending class, involved a drug and alcohol factor.  I managed to have a three day week for two of the six semesters I completed, which I designed as a means to incorporate my drug and alcohol use.  On Wednesdays there was a party underneath a student center that I loved, Thursdays more people partied so there were a variety of parties I could be present at, Friday there was generally a big party I went to, Saturdays I liked to “stay in” for a dorm party; just a few friends (15 or so) crammed into a tiny space, and Sunday I liked to “study” while drinking and smoking weed.  Mondays and Tuesdays were my days to “study.”  I generally woke up late and hung over, often missed class, rarely completed the small assignments, and never held a job.  The thing was everyone around me was using drugs and drinking, too.  I’ll admit that they were somehow miraculously almost always pulling it off better than I was, but they were still right there with me smoking a bowl every morning, afternoon, and night, taking shots, trying shrooms, trying salvia, and frankly, they were far more adventurous than I was about their drug selections.  Then there were the people who really had their lives together that I just didn’t understand.  I genuinely do not think that I knew anyone who was sober in my college, but then again, I wasn’t really going to class and only really knew the people who I met smoking cigarettes outside of the crowded rooms of parties.  Once I got sober, I knew I couldn’t go back to that college.  I know I can finish my degree somewhere; I just can’t go back to the same college where I did all my using.  I have too many memories and know too many people.  I feel like it would suck me in head first and never let go.

While it is no secret that chemical dependency and abuse issues are common within the college community, many college students are actually seeking treatment.  The number of college students between the ages of 18 to 24 entering chemical dependency treatment centers increased 141.3% between 1999-2009 (Helliker).  The academic stress, physical risks, chemical dependency, and psychological distress contribute to individuals need for treatment, but the increase in individuals seeking treatment may be related to a larger acceptance of addiction as a disease and treatment as an acceptable form of help.

Recently, there has been an increase in colleges providing hang-out spaces for sober students, an idea started by Texas Tech University.  This provides students a space to socialize in and also a space to have 12 step meetings in (Helliker).  Texas Tech also has donor funded scholarships for sober students that rely upon students staying sober and their academic performance.  Texas Tech and other colleges formed the Association for Recovery in Higher Education aiming to provide social and recovery resources for sober students.  Brown University was actually the first to provide resources for students and staff in recovery in 1977.  There are often social clubs aimed at sober students and on campus AA meetings, even if the school does not advertise having an established recovery program.  Student health services also provide counseling, which may be beneficial in the transition into sober student life.

College housing is another difficulty for sober college students to face.  At least in early sobriety, which for me has constituted the first year of sobriety, sober livings or transitional livings are often the best options.  They provide a foundational community with structure and support, while still giving the individual the freedom to pursue his or her education and social goals. However if the individual is later in his or her sobriety or financial situations do not allow for sober living, finding a roommate who is also sober or who is at least respectful of sobriety is essential (Benton).  If there is substance-free living on the campus, is it really substance free?  Is your roommate or suite-mate that comes home wasted but did the drugs in another dorm going to trigger you or threaten your sobriety?

Lastly, getting involved with a 12-step program in your area and meeting sober people from your college and larger community is essential.  I looked at The Princeton Review’s list of “the most stone-cold sober colleges in the country,” and I know a few of them to have harbored some young active addicts.  I imagine that there are drugs at every college, and it is more about learning how to deal with and limit exposure as opposed to how to avoid total exposure.



Benton, Sarah Allen. How to return to college-SOBER? 30 August 2011. Article. 25 June 2012.

Ellsworth, Taylor. Sober at School. 22 May 2012. Article. 25 June 2012.

Helliker, Kevin. Campus Life 101: Staying Sober . 11 August 2010. Website. 25 June 2012.

Huff Post: College. Stone-Cold Sober Schools: Princeton Review List . 3 August 2011. Website. 25 June 2012.

Jaeger, Nikki. Sober Dorms of Higher Education. 2012. Article. 25 June 2012.


By Emily F.


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Filed under: Featured, Recovery · Tags: 12 step meetings, 12-steps, AA, Addiction, alcohol, Alcohol and Drugs, Alcoholics Anonymous, Association for Recovery in Higher Education, campus lifes, cast recovery, chemical dependency, college, disease, dorms, drinking, drugs and alcohol, education, Recovery, school, smoking, sober, sober dorms, sober living, sobriety, staying sober, substance abuse, Texas Tech University, treatment centers

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