Sobriety in College During COVID-19

Sobriety in College During COVID-19

Sobriety in College During COVID-19


By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC

Labor Day is approaching, and some colleges are beginning to reopen their campuses.  Other colleges are offering remote classes and some students are living locally in apartments or at home.  COVID-19 has created an unconventional start for school in general.  Additionally, college poses a unique challenge for students who have struggled with alcohol and/or Substance Use Disorders (SUD). Culturally and developmentally, this age has often been a time that many teens and young adults have tended to explore their new found freedom and experimented with alcohol and drugs.  There has been more open dialogue on campuses,  prevention efforts as well as a “sober curious” movement that have led some to choose other paths.  

Socializing post-COVID will take on different forms on college campuses, but many students will still be faced with an increase in social pressure to drink or use substances.  There will also be more students living off campus and engaging in school remotely, which will lead to less oversight in apartments that dorms would have otherwise provided.  While students choosing to remain at home, will face another set of challenges within their family unit–balancing this time of establishing independence with respecting family rules and limits.  

Since many colleges do not provide housing options for students in recovery, it is important for those individuals to explore alternatives when returning to school.  The In Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) Model will treat clients wherever they are living.  This may include at home, rental apartment or dorms.  The IHAT Institute is training healthcare professionals in this innovative and adaptable model, which is necessary during the ever changing landscape of this pandemic.  The IHAT Institute teaches a comprehensive care model that also can allow for telehealth as needed for the clients as well as their families.  

With the growing numbers of college students having received addiction treatment and returning to college with the intent to pursue a sober lifestyle, it is unfortunate that more colleges have not catered to this population.   The IHAT Treatment model would support students in navigating their return to college and in connecting them with appropriate resources–as they treat the whole person, family and their integration into their community that includes establishing a sober lifestyle. 

Here are some suggestions of strategies that have helped students to graduate from college— sober.

  • Research appropriate housing options:
    • Substance-free dorms                   
    • Renting an off-campus apartment with other sober peers       
    • If having to live in a college dorm, being sure to have a sober roommate or roommate who respects recovery                
    • Local off-campus sober house, independent living  or transitional living program                                       
    • Living with family and commuting to college or engaging in school remotely
  • Immediately connect with your campus Counseling Center in order to inquire about possible local and/or campus resources that may be helpful.  (ie, support groups, sober activities)
  • Locate and attend mutual-help groups remotely, on or near campus (ie, A.A., SMART Recovery).  Specifically, A.A. has “Young People’s” meetings that that are listed in meeting list books and online with a “YP” abbreviation
  • Make self-care a priority (ie, regular and healthy nutrition, sleep hygiene, exercise)
  • Find ways to manage stress in a healthy manner
  • Engage in spiritual practice if helpful for recovery (ie, meditation, prayer)
  • Get involved in extra-curricular activities that may allow for making connections with students who have interests beyond drinking
  • Find balance—be sure not to overbook academic, extra-curricular or social commitments
  • Commit to community service activities through the college or in the local area, which may lead to meeting others living a healthy lifestyle
  • Explore new activities to engage in with friends who may not be sober (ie, got to coffee, grab lunch, go to the movies)
  • Be proactive and reach out to the office that handles student activity planning and start a club or programming for students in recovery



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