What was it like to deal with substance abuse while going to college?
Once drugs and alcohol took over my life, everything else came second. Being successful in college requires dedication of both time and effort to academics and extracurricular activities, and I almost completely threw my education away when my priorities shifted to accommodate my drug use. Once I crossed that line from recreational use to full-blown addiction, there was no way I was going to be successful getting my degree. As my friends realized the extent of my problem, many began to distance themselves. I became increasingly dependent on substances to function. I was isolated and miserable and apathetic towards life in general. My attitude towards my education and my future was no exception.
On the other hand, I spent the latter half of my college career in recovery. Going through college while maintaining sobriety was both challenging and rewarding. Many times, my friends would go out on a Friday night somewhere I felt out of place being sober, or uncomfortable because I knew I would be tempted to drink or use drugs. I had to decline and make other plans for the night. There were many sacrifices I had to make to stay sober, but good friends will always understand and respect your decision to live a sober life.
How/when did you decide to get help with your substance abuse issue?
I only got help when I realized I had no other choice. The last thing I wanted to do was reach out to someone else and admit that I had a problem. Fortunately, I had a very supportive family that made that decision for me.
I entered treatment three years into college with no desire to be sober but recognizing that I had a problem. There, I learned about the disease of addiction and how much better life in recovery was than the way I was living. It was then that I decided to follow simple suggestions that I learned from those who got sober before me.
What did you find most helpful during your recovery?
First and foremost, support from my friends and family has been the most helpful resource I have when it comes to recovery. I still rely on them every day to get me through the tough times and encourage me to stay on the right path.
Once I was in recovery, I had two separate groups of friends, those who were also in recovery and those who drank responsibly but supported my decision to stay clean and limited their drinking when I was around. These were the friends that had no problem going to the movies on a Friday night instead of a party. I started going to 12-step meetings and met many great friends there that I still have to this day.
What advice or insights do you have for college students who may be dealing with substance abuse, those who are trying to prevent it, or those who are in recovery while attending school?
If you are struggling with substance abuse in college, my best advice would be to reach out and get help sooner rather than later. In my opinion, the best way to get sober would be to go through a residential treatment program. It’s well worth it to put a semester on hold to get a foundation for recovery.
Find a group of supportive, sober people and stick with them. A vital part of any sober support group, whether 12-step based or not, is fellowship. Hanging out with people before and after the meeting allowed me to find people who were doing the same thing that I was: staying sober in a college environment.
Whether you are in sobriety, currently struggling with substance abuse or just a typical college student, you are who you associate with. If you hang around people who are abusing drugs, your chances of participating in the same behavior go up. On the other hand, if you associate with people who are doing the right thing, you tend to join them. If you choose your friends wisely, you can become a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem.