College and Recovery: the Importance of Finding a Sober Peer Community

College and Recovery: the Importance of Finding a Sober Peer Community

College is a time for growth and change, and it is a time when young adults face unique opportunities and challenges. However, those in addiction recovery face more challenges than some students, so sober peer communities are both assets and opportunities for growth and support.

Peer support and a sense of community benefit anyone who is struggling to fit in with other people, make good choices or maintain certain values or lifestyles. Those students who are seeking recovery or working to maintain sobriety can find even greater benefit from this resource.

Why Do College Students Need Recovery Help?

Young adults in college are usually seeking their social and personal identities, developing independence and learning how to live on their own. These lessons and college are both exciting, but this stressful time is not always marked by the best decisions. While some young adults can quickly learn, others are susceptible to problems, such as addiction due to genetics, environment, personality and a myriad of other factors.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) shares that “the rate of heavy alcohol use—defined as five or more drinks on five or more occasions within the past 30 days—is highest among Americans aged 20 to 22…and within that demographic, consumption is heaviest among college students…College administrators say booze and drug usage plays a role in the 20 percent dropout rate of among college freshmen.” Drinking and partying at college may seem like youthful fun or a quick phase in response to living away from home, but it is occurring more than ever.

Not only is alcohol abuse prevalent on college campuses, but it also has real consequences. For some students, those consequences are leaving college, facing serious health problems or addiction. Heavy drinking cannot be ignored, even when it seems like harmless fun. The Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice (JSARP) shares that “students with active problems generally require some type of intervention to reduce consumption to safer levels and prevent current patterns of use from progressing to more serious levels of involvement.” Getting help (and getting help early on in addiction) is essential for recovery, and it makes finishing college possible when it may not have been otherwise.

Addiction Treatment for College Students

Drinking is a real problem for college students, but getting help is becoming easier and more common than ever. WSJ explains that, “among Americans seeking treatment for substance abuse, no demographic is growing faster than students age 18 to 24. During the decade [that] ended in 2009, treatment providers say the number of students in that age range seeking help more than doubled, compared with a 9 percent jump in the 25-and-older category.” It is fantastic that more college students and their families are recognizing problems early and taking action to improve a young adult’s future.

How Peer Support Helps Recovery Efforts

Peer support is now widely recognized as an invaluable resource, but such was not always the case. The WSJ shares that “students [who were] exiting treatment have long been advised to live at home and commute to class or else postpone college until possessed of a significant spell of sobriety.” While it is a great decision to establish sobriety before facing the challenges of a college campus, this notion encourages seclusion and isolation, both of which contribute to relapse. Avoiding building relationships and having new experiences may seem “safe,” but, as the JSARP shares, “sustained recovery requires a strong system of peers who are engaged, invested, and supportive of the recovery process…[Sober peer] groups help students develop a sense of belonging so critical to their identity development, school engagement, and overall mental health.” Isolation does not sustain recovery, but peer communities do if they understand addiction and offer alternative activities and opportunities for building friendships.

These peer groups provide the sense of belonging that is essential for recovery both during and after college. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shares that “people with mental and/or substance use disorders have a unique capacity to help each other based on a shared affiliation and a deep understanding of this experience. In self-help and mutual support, people offer this support, strength, and hope to their peers, which allows for personal growth, wellness promotion, and recovery.” Sober peer communities provide immediate and long-term benefits, and their effects reach further than just the group at hand. JSARP explains that “efforts to build strong support networks among students can address substance-related problems among the entire campus community, not just those in recovery.” By finding support for themselves, by standing together to encourage recovery, individuals in sober peer groups communicate health, hope, friendship and community to those who may otherwise be unaware of their problems, options and solutions.

Young adults or their families who are concerned about drinking or drug use can find access to appropriate, effective treatment by calling our toll-free helpline. Early intervention means intensive outpatient treatment may be enough to initiate recovery; inpatient treatment offers even more hope for lifelong sobriety. The greater the number of students who seek treatment means more resources are available than ever before, a both good yet overwhelming fact. The growing number of young adults who are seeking addiction help also means that young adults will not be away from peers while in treatment; this fact also means that students who are in college can recover within supportive peer communities, so seek help now to begin recovery today.