What Is a Sober College?

In 2010, 77 percent of students contemplating a stint in higher education sent applications to at least three schools, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Some of these students were concerned with the reputations of the schools on their list, looking for the most prestigious facility that could provide them with a first-rate education and a leg up in the job market. Other students were concerned with cost, and they hoped a school would subsidize their education through scholarships and grants. Others may have had a completely different goal in mind when they sent out applications. For these students, a school’s sober credentials play a key role in the decision-making process.

Understanding the Problem

what is a sober collegeColleges and universities are designed to provide students with in-depth education in a specialized field of study. Where a student in high school might get a smattering of knowledge on all kinds of topics, a student in higher education chooses just one field to focus upon, and the lessons become more and more sophisticated with each year that a student stays enrolled in school.

It’s hard work, to be sure, and while enrolling in higher education can be expensive, research suggests that those who complete their degrees tend to achieve a level of success in life that eludes those who never set foot in an institute of higher learning. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unemployment rates for people with bachelor’s degrees stood at 4.5 percent in 2012, while the rate for people who had less than a high school diploma stood at 12.4 percent. It’s a remarkable difference.

student on computerWhile the lessons students pick up in college can be remarkably helpful, some students spend their college years learning all sorts of lessons that won’t help them as they move through their lives. For these students, the intellectual freedom that comes with higher education is easily traded for a life of substance use and abuse, and the results can be catastrophic.

Many college students focus their attention on alcohol. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, and almost half of these students binge on alcohol, drinking until they simply cannot drink any more. Parties held by college students may focus on the use and abuse of alcohol, while athletic events provide the perfect opportunity for celebratory drinks or compensatory binges. Even the surrounding community can contribute to the problem, as bars may line the outer edges of campus, and these facilities may host special events that can lure in young drinkers.

College students can also focus on illegal drugs, including:

  • Hallucinogenic mushrooms
  • Ecstasy
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Prescription pain pills

These substances might also be popular among partying students who hope to cut loose when their classes have ended. Some college students even use drugs in order to boost their performance in class. According to an article produced by CNN, some 30 percent of students rely on prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin, hoping the drugs can help them stay awake through long study sessions.

The Sober Solution

sober solutionLiving in an environment in which alcohol abuse is common and drugs are used to make life easier can be difficult for people new to recovery and sobriety. The permissive environment makes a relapse seem likely, and obtaining intoxicating substances might be easy for people who live on campus. Some people in recovery might even be forced to live with roommates who use and abuse substances, and their recovery can be jeopardized as a result.

Sober colleges are designed to provide people with a clean and sober educational experience, free of the dangers of a traditional party-type school. This goal might remain the same among all schools that claim to have a sober focus, but the way in which these institutions meet their goals can vary dramatically.

Some schools have strict policies regarding intoxicating substances, and students who break these rules might be subject to expulsion. The rules can be effective for very young students, who simply cannot purchase many intoxicating substances due to their age, but the restrictions can break down among older students. For example, Calvin College claims to be a sober institution, and it does rank high on the Princeton Review of “Stone-Cold Sober Schools,” but a close inspection of the school’s conduct code leaves a little room for doubt. For example, older students are allowed to drink, as long as they do so moderately. They may even be allowed to host drunken parties, as long as they are “responsible in their hospitality.” For people in recovery, these restrictions might not be firm enough to help.

More Intensive Help

Those students in recovery might need more advanced addiction help from their schools, including:

  • Support group meetings held on campus
  • Addiction medication management
  • Addiction education
  • Academic support
  • Touch-up therapy

They may also need strictly sober living accommodations, as well as the opportunity to socialize with others in recovery in fun, sober activities. Sober-student study halls and hangout spaces might also be helpful for students like this, so they can focus on their academic success without dealing with addiction issues.

This model of sober education is catching on across the country, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that at least 20 colleges provided services like this in 2011, with many more signing on in the future. Students who attend colleges with programs like this may find that they’re receiving help that can allow them to manage their conditions while they’re also attending to a very serious addiction issue. For some, it’s just the right kind of help.

right fitFinding the Right Fit

Some colleges and universities are upfront about their sober policies, and they may claim membership in the Association of Recovery in Higher Education or the Association of Recovery Schools. Prospective students who see these endorsements on enrollment forms may feel comfortable that the schools they’re considering are capable of helping them to maintain their hard-won sobriety. Schools that don’t promote their credentials may not be bad choices, however, as they may also provide services for addicted students in recovery. Calling the enrollment office or speaking to an admissions counselor may be helpful, as students may find that the school of their dreams does have a robust recovery culture that just doesn’t make it into the advertising programs the school pulls together each year.

A visit to the campus may also be informative. Some schools provide enrollment advisors for private tours, and students may be allowed to view the sober living communities, treatment facilities and counseling rooms they’ll use as students. Ideally, the facilities will also provide prospective students with the opportunity to meet and talk to current students in recovery. These students may have their own opinions about how well the school performs, and how easy accessing drugs might be, and their honest opinions may help students to avoid programs that aren’t quite right.

It’s also important to note that enrollment isn’t a lifelong commitment. Students who enroll in college may find that the school they’ve chosen has a hidden party atmosphere that’s capable of endangering their sobriety. If the methods they use to combat those triggers don’t seem to be working and a relapse seems eminent, there’s no shame in leaving that school and exploring other options. Sobriety is a hard-won gift, and it’s worth protecting, even if that means educational goals need to be readjusted a little from time to time. A counselor may be able to clarify these issues for students in recovery, helping them to make a choice that’s right for them and for their long-term chances of sobriety success.

If you’d like to know more about how education might factor into your sober lifestyle, and how you can protect your sobriety even when you’re living in a party atmosphere, please call us. Our facilities offer a variety of sober living aftercare options, and we’re happy to describe how they work and how they might benefit you.