For high school or college age people who are in drug treatment or have completed an addiction treatment program, graduating from school is a natural and worthy goal. However, schools of every kind are natural incubators for the party culture. Therefore, there shouldn’t be a rush to return to campus prematurely. For people of the high school and college age, it is critical that they develop a support network prior to re-entry.
Humans are social beings and the social instinct is strongest in the teenage years. While having a 12-step sponsor and a consistent meeting schedule is important, having a network of friends who are in recovery is vital. Since young men and women of that age often do most non-academic activities in a group, that group must be interested in doing things that don’t include drugs or alcohol.
How can you tell if a young person is ready to go back to school? Look at their self-efficacy. Does the person in question go to 12-step meetings on their own? Do they call a sponsor daily? Have they made friends at the meetings? If a student isn’t taking action, on their own, to work a program of recovery, they will be unlikely to stay sober and/or do well in class.
Assuming the teen is working a program of recovery and has a strong and growing sober network that they utilize daily, what other steps can be taken to reduce the risk of relapse?
For high school students, working a program independently while living at home or a local sober house may be sufficient. However, for college students, much more should be done! Research sober colleges and universities rigorously! A school with a genuine “recovery” dorm will offer it to people with substance abuse issues. Often there will be recovery meetings at that location. If the school the young man or woman will be attending does not have a genuine “sober” dorm or house, an apartment with another person in recovery or a local sober house is the way to go. Under no circumstances should a person in early recovery live among the drug and alcohol fueled shenanigans of a traditional dorm room! Think of it this way; if the person in question had lung cancer and had just quit smoking, would anyone think it was a good idea to live in a building where people were smoking regularly? Of course not.
What if the college student is going away for college? Going out to the campus early to attend daily recovery meetings is ideal. Not only will the student get to focus on recovery immediately upon arrival, but they will also get to know the local meetings and get to meet the local recovery community. Friendships need to be struck at once and this requires a lot of effort on the student’s part. Hanging out after a meeting isn’t enough. Social activities outside a meeting situation should be implemented immediately. The student should be as involved as possible in the local recovery community before school begins! Perhaps the family can travel to the college town a week or two before school starts and assist and support the young recovering person as they build a network from scratch. This is extremely important and difficult but necessary to give the recovering person a decent chance to be successful.
Ideally, a college student will have a year of sobriety or more before entering or re-entering the college campus lifestyle. Attending classes at a local community college for the first year in recovery is an excellent idea! In recovery there is a “dose effect” which states that the probability of stable remission increases based on the frequency of involvement in recovery-related activities.
Peter McConnell, MS
Phase II Director