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Going Back to School after Addiction Recovery

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Going Back to School after Addiction Recovery

It’s the end of August, so you’re probably at capacity for how many back-to-school reminders you can take. For most people, the transition back to school isn’t very complicated. Classes were picked months ago, professors have already been cyber stalked for the easiest A, and textbooks are sitting in Amazon carts, waiting for the all-clear to purchase. But these tasks appear much differently to recovering addicts. And while the average person may let out the routine groan at yet another back-to-school commercial, recovering addicts going back to school are faced with much more.

back to school

Addiction: An Automatic Class Withdraw?

Addiction twists a person’s mind into believing that NOTHING is more important than that next high. And we’re not just talking about a simple mixup of priorities. An addict’s mind is actually physiologically altered to believe that access to their drug of choice equals survival.

Physical health, appearance, friends, family, jobs, school . . . they all take a back seat to a person’s drug of choice. When immediate survival is the goal, the consequences afflicted to these everyday connections and responsibilities don’t matter. College and alcohol do have a direct connection. But there’s a difference between social drinking (or even occasional binge drinking at frat parties) and feeding a full-blown addiction while succeeding in school. The latter is not possible.

Recovering Addicts Going Back to School

Whether addiction forced you to drop out of school or prolonged enrollment in the first place, don’t feel ashamed or hopeless. Ideally, recovery should be your main priority and focus when getting clean. While it’s possible to still attend school while in recovery with an outpatient program, the unfortunate break from school forced by addiction actually grants you the opportunity to focus solely on recovery.

Once your sobriety stands on a treatment-forged foundation, you’re better able to weave those other goals and priorities — such as school and work — back into your life.

Tips for Going Back to School After Addiction Treatment:

  • Make sure you have a solid support system

    College is a breeding ground for party culture. So you’re likely to find a plethora of triggers once you’re back at school. It’s important to have a solid support system around you to help celebrate your sobriety and combat triggers. Loved ones, classmates, a sponsor, and even a school guidance counselor are all great places to look for support.

  • Manage your stress

    Unfortunately, between class load, homework, and school-life balance, college is also a breeding ground for stress. And stress is a giant catalyst for relapse. Your previous coping mechanisms aren’t an option, so you’ll need to make finding healthy stress management options a priority. Try things like yoga, relaxing in nature, or meeting regularly with a therapist.

  • Set goals for yourself

    It’s much easier to follow through with plans when you set concrete goals for getting there. Going back to school after recovery can be incredibly daunting. Breaking it up into smaller goals will help. What those goals actually are is up to you, but some ideas include deciding if you’re going to be a full-time or part-time student, completing a certain number of units by a certain time, finishing your General Education courses within a certain number of semesters, and deciding what type of degree you want. Your college advisor can help you manage these goals, so don’t be afraid to set up an appointment to speak with them.

Schools Stepping Up, Stigma Stepping Down

The mental and physical deterioration that addiction facilitates makes it hard for students to succeed in school as it is. Now add the fact that addiction and substance abuse have long been steeped in stigma. Students struggling with substance abuse have a hard time getting the help they need because of that stigma. They’re typically either punished for something they can no longer control or left to slip through the cracks unnoticed and in pain.


Recently, however, schools are starting to step up and take more effort in preventing addiction and fighting the stigma. And it’s not just colleges and universities that are doing their parts to eradicate the crisis. One Washington high school counselor speaks on the importance of making students feel supported. Katie Riley, a prevention/intervention specialist in the Evergreen Public Schools District, works with students who may have encountered addiction and trauma at home. She puts a lot of effort into turning her campus office into a comfortable and safe space for students. She explains,

“The connection is the most important part when working with a student . . . Without that connection, they’re not going to open up and talk to you and lay out what’s really going on or accept your advice.”

Advocacy can start with even the youngest students. A group of students at Becker College in Maryland are creating a video game designed to help fight addiction. The game is for third and fourth grade students and will focus on the cause and effects of our choices.

By implementing these methods into the school system, we’re advocating for reduced substance abuse and creating a safer environment for students who do need help. Knocking back that stigma helps recovering addicts going back to school rightfully feel like their fellow peers — worrying more about which textbook they actually need to splurge on rush shipping for and less about being judged for going to treatment.

Life Planning at New Start Recovery

Because our program is tailored to each individual client’s needs, we offer support and guidance for clients who wish to enroll/re-enroll in school. Individual case managers will sit down with clients to outline the steps needed to get back on their desired track.

Learn more about our program.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, our addiction counselors are available 24/7 to help: 855-737-7363

Posted in Addiction, Culture