Being in recovery at college can be intimidating, but many colleges offer programs and services to support your recovery. Learn about drug-free college policies.

College can be a challenging time for youth in recovery, as drugs and alcohol are readily available and often abused on college campuses. College is a transitional and experimental time, and being sober in college can sometimes feel lonely and difficult.

Staying away from drugs and alcohol is not the norm on many campuses, but for youth with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, being sober in college is especially important. Choosing a college with the right environment is essential for students in recovery. The right college should have adequate mental health resources, staff and awareness.

Fully-Equipped Counseling Center on Campus

There are many new experiences in college, and some students experience mental health difficulties for the first time. As a result, most colleges are equipped with counseling centers or mental health services for students.

For teens who have experienced substance abuse, it’s important to get information about the counseling services available before attending college. Counseling at college, particularly for sober youth, can provide the resources that students need to support sobriety and mental health and allow them to focus on their education.

Getting information and asking questions about counseling services and student support is a great way to plan ahead for the challenges of college.

Student Support Programs

Student support professionals play a major role in student success and well-being. In recognition of how common drugs and alcohol can be on campus, some schools offer sober activities for college students for people who wish to avoid them. These activities can reduce the risks of drug and alcohol abuse and also help normalize sobriety.

In some cases, colleges and universities can declare themselves a ‘sober campus,’ meaning that drugs and alcohol are not permitted. These schools may have collegiate recovery programs to support abstinence from drugs and alcohol and also reduce the risk of future substance use disorders.

Looking for colleges that offer student support programs, either through college staff or peer support, is important for students in recovery. Campuses that offer mental health awareness, support, or meeting groups can be more likely to offer understanding and support for sober students.

On and Nearby Off-Campus Sober Living

College dorms can be a hard place to live for students in recovery. Binge drinking and recreational drug use are common in many dorms and can make a sober lifestyle quite challenging and isolating. To protect their own recovery, many students choose sober living college programs or campuses with sober housing options.

On-campus or nearby sober living for college students can be a great option for students who want to make the best choice to support their recovery and also want to remain involved in college activities and student life. Sober living options can make it less isolating or ‘abnormal’ to stay away from drugs and alcohol at college.

Analyze Campus Substance Use Policies

Knowing how to stay sober in college can seem intimidating and overwhelming. Although most colleges have clear no-drug policies, there is a lot of drug use in college behind closed doors.

The US Department of Education offers certification for drug-free campuses and requires that colleges clearly communicate their drug-free policies and submit regular reports to the government. Students can check whether colleges have this certification if they are looking for sober college options.

Checking on substance use policies can be a good way to know where a college stands on the abuse of substances and their policies to reduce substance abuse and protect students. Most sober colleges will have clear policies surrounding drug and alcohol use on or near campus. Knowing these policies can help sober students feel protected and supported in their recovery.

Information on substance-free campuses and college drug policies can be found on most college websites. Reaching out to a student support office or directly to a campus substance use/mental health support program is a great way to make sure there is support available to you.

Being in recovery shouldn’t keep you from pursuing an education. There are many college options that can support your recovery and offer peer support and resources throughout your studies. Choosing a college carefully can support both your mental health and your education.

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Editor – Rob Alston
Rob Alston has traveled around Australia, Japan, Europe, and America as a writer and editor for industries including personal wellness and recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Sarah Dash, PHD
Dr. Sarah Dash is a postdoctoral research fellow based in Toronto. Sarah completed her PhD in Nutritional Psychiatry at the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in 2017. Read more

Perron, Brian E.; et al. “Supporting Students in Recovery on Colle[…]fairs Professionals.” Journal of student affairs research and practice, 2011. Accessed September 17, 2019.

DeRicco, Beth. “Complying with the drug-free schools and[…]ampuses regulations.”US Department of Education, July 2006. Accessed September 17, 2019.

Laudet, Alexandre; et al. “Collegiate Recovery Communities Programs[…]do we need to know?.” Journal of social work practice in the addictions, 2011. Accessed September 17, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.