How to Manage Your Recovery After Coming Back to School
Wondering how life is going to change when you leave rehab and come back to college? Even though rehab only lasts a few weeks, the overall goal is long lasting recovery.
If you’re suffering from a substance use disorder (SUD), the rest of your life is essentially spent in recovery. This is for the following reasons:
- An unhealthy relationship with substances is hardwired into your brain
- Cravings can go away, but they can always be triggered
You need considerations for your ongoing recovery and an environment that supports it. For most people, college isn’t exactly the most welcoming place when you’re in recovery.
You may already know that going back to college could present new and old challenges. On top of class requirements, students frequently drink and partake in drugs. Now you’ll need to learn to avoid old triggers or find new ways to cope.
But you’re not alone in your struggle, and colleges around the country are accepting that. More of them have set up programs and resources to protect students like you from relapsing.
A smooth transition from recovery to school is absolutely vital. Think ahead about the recovery options you want to pursue in this crucial point of your life. The more strategic you are about your recovery, the better you’ll feel once you’re back on campus.
Here’s how you can manage your recovery after you go back to school:
Get Recovery Housing on Campus
Living in a dorm can be a bad idea if you have a substance use disorder. A typical dorm is full of students who partake in alcohol and other substances. Even underage dorms tend to have drugs present, and the smell or knowledge that someone around you is using can be a trigger.
Ideally, you should live with loved ones who can keep your recovery in mind. Having that close support can do wonders for your physical and mental health.
But if that isn’t an option, recovery housing on campus is your next best bet. These are part of college programs meant to help students coming back from addiction treatment.
These are what quality recovery dorms offer:
- Living spaces without alcohol or drugs
- In-house counselors available at all times
- Regular 12-Step support groups
- Sober social events
Research shows that recovery housing works for students like you. It lowers the relapse rate on campus by removing triggers and providing support. Ultimately, the students can go to their classes with a clearer mind, without the distraction of drugs.
And even if you do relapse, your counselors at the recovery house have the right tools to help you. You won’t feel rejected if you’re around others who are on the same path as you.
You don’t have to put yourself through a living situation where you could encounter the substance you were abusing.
Curate Your Drug-Free Social Circle
Remember those people you were only friends with because you shared a vice? It’s time to end those superficial relationships.
Friends can be your biggest source of support in recovery. But if they’re friends who you used to smoke, drink, or use with, then it may be time to sever the connection.
That’s the great thing about recovery. You’re empowered to choose who you hang out with and have healthier relationships.
Along the way, you’ll meet other people who want to build bonds without any substances involved. You can start with the other students in your college’s recovery programs.
Be open to welcoming new people in your life. You don’t have to feel isolated just because you don’t use or drink anymore.
Until you have better self-control, it’s best to stay away from substances and people who use them. Choose to surround yourself with people in recovery as much as you can. You’re still in the early stages of recovery, so it’s easier to be tempted.
Some people take years before they feel confident enough to be around alcohol, even though it’s so common. Take cues from your therapist over whether you’ll be okay in these situations. But most importantly, be friends with people who won’t put you in those situations.
Talk to Your Professors, Advisor, and Coaches
Your professors, advisors, and team coaches are a positive presence in your college life. Their goal is to help you succeed on campus, even when you’re in recovery from addiction.
Whether it’s failing grades or struggles with staying sober, they’ll want to work with you to give you the support you need.
It’s difficult to approach an adult with your situation. It’s especially hard if you’re transferring to a new school. That’s why colleges often have policies in place to make sure they don’t discriminate against you.
No, this doesn’t mean you’re asking for special treatment. You’re only asking them to be reasonable and keep your addiction issue in mind.
As your role models, they have a shared responsibility for your health and safety.
Here are things you should mention to your professors, advisor, and coaches:
- Details of your recovery, such as when you started
- How your recovery could affect your performance in class
- Treatment programs that could take time away from finishing requirements on time
- Topics that could trigger discomfort or cravings
Don’t wait until you’re already struggling to have this conversation with them. Transparency about your recovery will make things easier throughout your college experience.
They can also protect you from classmates or teammates that could be threatening your sobriety. With your help, they can create a safe learning environment for you and their other students.
Go to the Counseling Center on Campus
There’s a lot of stigma around SUDs. It may be the reason why you’re hesitant to visit your college’s counseling center.
Counselors are actually the best people to approach with your recovery. They’re trained to help you with any of your psychological needs. Many colleges even have counselors on staff who are trained in addiction issues.
Dealing with a SUD often means having co-occurring mental or mood disorders. Addressing depression and anxiety is essential to successful treatment, and the college counseling center can help you with that.
In some cases, a college counselor could be more accessible to talk to rather than a typical therapist. Here’s how they can be valuable to your recovery:
- College counselors already understand how your school works
- They can give feasible advice for problems in your classes
- They can recommend on-campus activities that support your goals
- Going to a college counselor is cheaper
- You don’t have to leave campus to see your counselor
If your addiction started in college, changes are necessary. You can’t have the same habits and coping mechanisms because it could lead to the same cycle.
Open communication with a college counselor is a great start. You’ll get help regulating your thoughts and emotions, so they don’t disrupt your studies or your recovery.
Throw Yourself Into a Routine
Stories about addiction don’t often mention how much free time you’ll have.
Now that you’ve committed to sobriety, you’ll realize how much time you invested in using substances. Whether it’s mornings before your first class or Friday nights, you’ll need to find a way to keep yourself busy.
Boredom is a common trigger for a relapse. To prevent it, experts suggest following a routine to give structure to your day. That way, you’ll have less time to deal with troubling thoughts about your recovery.
Changing the way you act is part of addiction treatment. You have to put effort into stopping behaviors that lead to impulsive decisions.
With a routine, you’ll be more productive. It’ll also make things that are normally overwhelming seem more manageable.
Plus, it isn’t just a list of things to do in a day. It’s a way to set boundaries for yourself. When you build a routine that leaves no room for boredom or drugs, then you’re less likely to relapse.
Some parts of a new routine may include:
- Establish a regular sleeping schedule
- Consistently eat meals at the same time
- Rewrite your notes as a way to study
- Write in a journal every day
- Dedicate time to learning a new skill
- Do something fun before or after counseling sessions
Throwing yourself into a routine might not be the easiest thing in the world. It might even feel unnatural to follow a routine. But the more often you do it, the more natural it will feel. Your college life will flourish without drugs!
Be Open So You Can Get the Support You Need
Sometimes, asking for help just isn’t part of your personality. It may have been difficult enough to decide to go to rehab in the first place.
But this is just one of the ways your addiction isolates you. It’s normal for people to seek support from their environment and social circles. Everyone experiences that need, especially in college.
Transitioning out of rehab can feel a bit like learning how to trust again. Not just other people, but yourself, too.
Self-forgiveness might take time, but that doesn’t change the fact that you deserve it. You have a better chance of realizing it when you welcome people’s efforts to support you.
And it’s not just your loved ones, your mentors, or your friends in recovery. There are tons of college-funded programs and communities that want to empower your life of sobriety.
Consider Transferring if Your School Isn’t Supportive
There’s a chance your school might not have the resources or tools to support your recovery. Despite your efforts, you could still have a hard time coping with all your responsibilities.
This isn’t a reason to give up on your sobriety. If anything, it should push you to pursue your needs more.
These are signs that you aren’t getting the right support from your school:
- Your professors refuse to give you the consideration you need
- Your counselor doesn’t seem dedicated to your case
- It’s impossible to go to a social gathering without encountering drugs
If you’re in this situation, don’t lose hope. You have two options that keep your treatment a priority:
- Look for counseling and support options outside your campus
- Transfer to a school with the appropriate programs
Don’t let yourself feel like you’re stuck in a situation that you can’t change. You’ve made decisions that changed your life for the better before, and you can always do that for yourself.
More and more schools in the country are starting their college recovery programs. Institutions are investing more in funds and scholarships to empower students like you. The world recognizes your experiences in recovery, and they want to help.
You can succeed in college: not in spite of your recovery, but because of it.
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