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Staying Sober with Collegiate Recovery Programs

Going back to college may be intimidating for young men who have just completed an addiction treatment program. College today is ripe with temptation: partying has become the norm for making friends and establishing social status. For those in recovery looking to pursue an education, the social fabric of campus life can be harrowing. There is a constant pressure to branch out, to meet new people, and to get the full “college experience.” These pressures become social anxieties for many students, and are often eased through drugs and alcohol. 

A college education today holds great weight in determining how one’s future will pan out. According to a recent New York Times article, those who graduate with a degree earn 98 percent more an hour than those who did not. Unfortunately, countless students still take advantage of the opportunities that a college education can provide, and take their newfound freedom, away from home, for granted.


sober dorms and recovery housing

Substance use in college is often seen as a rite of passage. 40 percent of college students drink alcohol excessively, and at least 16 percent eventually meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Because many students see partying and binging as a normalcy, they become blind to their own personal issues with drug and alcohol consumption. Even if a problem has developed, they may not seek treatment in fear of how others will react. The fact is there is an undeniable stigma attached to addiction, and over one-third of students do not seek help because of it. They do not want to be viewed as different; they want to fit in.

This feeling is often paralleled among students already in recovery: They may not choose substance-free dorms in fear of standing out, or not making friends. They may not want to be surrounded by the constant party atmosphere, either. In the past, those who have completed treatment have been encouraged to study from home, online, or commute to campus from a sober living residence. A good amount of students have also been urged to put off their education until they’ve reached a certain number of sober years. By not going to college, they are better able to avoid relapse triggers such as partying with peers, academic stresses, and financial struggles. 

But because education is one of our highest priorities at Turnbridge, we feel that no one’s desire to go to college should be inhibited because of recovery. Rather, colleges should support student abstinence, and positively work to reduce the stigma associated with addiction. And many are. Over recent years, colleges have recognized that their campuses can be a difficult place to maintain sobriety for students battling addiction. 

In wake of this, recovery programs and sober residencies (or “sober dorms”) have emerged in colleges all over the United States. There are currently 20+ fully sober colleges in the country, and over 50 universities enacting programs (the Association for Recovery in Higher Education) to help students sustain sobriety while in college. Texas Tech, Augsburg, Rutgers, and Michigan University are some of the most well known, with abstinent rates averaging at 90 percent, and graduation rates of about 80 percent, for students in the program. 

Students seeking treatment, recovery support, and a sober lifestyle in college are also on the rise. At the University of Michigan, for example, 2,600 students choose substance-free housing each year. This open mindset has grown all over the nation. According to SAMHSA, the number of college students checking into treatment programs increased 141.3 percent between 1999-2009.


Michigan’s Collegiate Recovery Program is an excellent example of a program that offers counseling, self-help courses, and substance-free activities while in college, steering students away from temptations involving drugs or alcohol. Texas Tech, a leader in campus recovery and sober living, is another example, offering amenities such as a sober-student hangout with pool tables and regular 12-step meetings. When students become members of the Texas Tech recovery program, they are required to complete a relapse prevention class as well as ten hours of community service each semester. Members who are successful in doing so, who maintain excellent academic performance, and who commit to staying sober while in school can even qualify for up to $6,000 worth of annual scholarships. Other schools have enacted on-campus, advisory services, such as Harvard’s Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisor program, to create preventative programs and help their peers avoid substance use each semester.

Sober dorms serve as a reliable space where those in recovery do not have to worry about the influx of relapse triggers, and can concentrate on their academics and health. They offer a quiet place for studying, as well as a home free from the secondhand effects of alcohol and drug use, like property vandalism and late night interruptions. Most importantly, they give students a safe place to establish sober networks: friends who share interests beyond getting drunk or high. Together, students can rustle up sober activities like hiking, grabbing coffee, or catching a show at a concert venue nearby. If college stresses arise, students in these dorms can work together to re-encourage the positive coping mechanisms learned in treatment. For students trying to shake an addiction, substance-free dorms in college remain a sort of refuge. Call Turnbridge today at 1-877-581-1793 for more information on how you or a loved one can transition into higher education, while getting the most full college experience by staying sober.