One of the fantastic things about recovering from an addiction is that it gives the individual a second chance in life. No matter how far they have fallen as a result of substance abuse, they should be able to reclaim much of what was lost. Of course severe brain damage which is possible in the most extreme cases is debilitating. However, if irreversable physical damage has been avoided, much is possible.
One of the things that people may decide to do when they become sober is return to college. This may be because they wish to improve their chances in the job market or just as a path to personal development. Going to college can be aly rewarding experience for people in recovery, but it can also be a threat to sobriety if the individual is not prepared for it.
There are some good reasons for why people recovering from an addiction may decide to go to back to college including:
* If people are unhappy with their current qualifications then may decide that they will benefit from gaining more. Many of those who begin to build a life in sobriety decide that they want more out of life; improving their academic qualifications may be part of this.
* Many addicts will have been abusing alcohol and drugs during their college years. This means that they will not have performed as well as they could have. They may decide to go back and repeat the process sober to achieve better results.
* Those individuals who didn’t manage to complete their college degree may want to rectify this situation now that they are sober. Once people give up their addiction they can usually regain those things they have lost out on – including their education.
* Some people will feel caught in their current career and desire a change. If they return to college it will open new doors for them.
* Those individuals who begin to live a sober life can feel a great deal more ambitious than they did during the years of addiction. In order to climb higher in their current profession they may need more qualifications.
* The job market is highly competitive at the moment. Those people who have a poor academic record may struggle to find well-paid work. By going back to college the individual can increase their employment opportunities.
* Sometimes people just regret not having more academic qualifications. They return to college for personal reasons.
Returning to college can be an extremely positive decision, but there can also be potential dangers associated with it. Student life tends to involve plenty of socializing with other students; many of these events will be fueled by alcohol or drugs. Binge drinking is a problem on many college campuses. One study found that 44% of students had a pattern of drinking that could be described as binging and therefore dangerous. The recovering addict may begin to feel that they are missing out on this part of student life. This can mean they become tempted to relapse back to their addiction.
The demands of college life can bring a lot of stress into the individual’s life. In order to deal with this the individual will need good coping skills; they will also need to be secure in their sobriety. If people go to college without sufficient inner resources and a support network they could be at risk of a return to their addiction.
College work and student life can take up a great deal of time and energy. This may mean that the individual does no longer able to put enough effort into their recovery. This is a dangerous situation; particularly for people who are in early recovery. Returning to college is a wonderful achievement. It is a sign that the individual is getting their life back together. Some people in recovery become so impressed with their progress that they decide that they are now well enough to return to alcohol or drug use. Such thinking can lead to a great deal of suffering.
It is not only the hard times in recovery that can put the individual’s sobriety at risk; there can also be an urge to abuse alcohol and drugs when things are going well. The addict learns to indentify reward for achievements with substance abuse. Even when they become sober the can still feel that they deserve a chemical reward when they achieve something notable. This can mean that success in college could be used as a justification to relapse.
There are an increasing number of resources available for people in recovery who are returning to collage. One good example of this would be Students for Recovery which is based at Michigan University. This club offers support to students in recovery and also organizes sober activities; there are similar clubs in universities in other parts of the US and abroad.
It is entirely possible for people in recovery to have a successful and fulfilling life at college. They can increase their likelihood of enjoying the experience by:
* In some colleges there can be a vibrant social scene connected with student life. The focus does tend to be on alcohol a great deal of the time, but there will also be plenty of other activities for people in recovery. If people plan to become involved in extracurricular activities at college then they should investigate the sober options right away.
* The stresses of college life can be quite high so it is vital that the individual is prepared for this. They need to have strategies for coping with stress before they sign up for a course.
* It can be helpful people spend some time learning relaxation techniques or other ways of combating stress. If people feel that they are currently finding life difficult to cope with then it might not be the best time to start college.
* It can be crucial for those in recovery to have a strong support network while going through college. Those who belong to a 12 Step group should continue to go to the meetings regularly.
* It can also be highly beneficial to have a recovery sponsor. If things get difficult the individual will be able to turn to their sponsor for one-to-one support.
* One of the common reasons why people in recovery fall into problems at college is that they forget their priorities. Sobriety must always come first and the individual needs to be constantly aware of anything that might threaten this.
* It is best for the individual to plan ahead for how they will celebrate their successes in college. This means thinking about meaningful rewards for a job well done; if such rewards are not there the individual can begin to resent not being able to toast their success with alcohol or drugs.
It is often suggested that people avoid making major changes in the first year of their recovery. This may mean that it is better to put off going to college until the individual feels strong enough to face such a challenge. During the early months of their sobriety the individual will already have too much going on in their life as they adjust; if they decide to also go to college it could become a bit overwhelming.
One of the concerns that people in recovery have when applying to college is the need to admit to their addiction history. There is no definitive answer to this dilemma and it boils down to a personal choice. Those who belong to a 12 Step program are usually advised that it is best to aim for rigorous honesty in life. Admitting to a history of addiction is usually looked upon too negatively by college admissions, but it will be kept on record. There are arguments for not volunteering such information, but it would probably be a bad idea to lie about it. Those individuals who have any type of criminal record as a result of their addiction, such as a DUI, may have to admit to this when applying to certain college courses (e.g. nursing).
When people go to college they will also have to decide whether or not to admit to their former addiction. There is no obligation to share this information and doing so could mean that other students will treat the individual differently. The benefit of admitting to an addiction is that it can be inspiring for other students who are struggling with this type of problem.