It’s likely you’ve heard it said before, but allow us to reiterate – college is an exciting time. It’s an ideal environment for personal growth and discovery, for healthy risk-taking and embracing new challenges and experiences. But in all areas of life, even the best times come with ups and downs, college included. Especially for those with substance use in their past, college can be a difficult time to properly navigate and adhere to recovery. 

Realities of Relapse

Relapse isn’t anything anyone wants to deal with, but it still remains a reality that someone who has struggled with addiction needs to be aware of. This doesn’t mean relapse is inevitable – in fact, someone who is conscious of the possibility is better at avoiding relapse than someone who ignores it entirely. 

People who are able to travel through recovery without relapse understand the power of triggers – the people, places and things their brain associates with substance or alcohol use. They know that it’s better for them to avoid those things than to put themselves in a place of risk and temptation. 

Unfortunately, moments in college can be triggering, whether that’s a large party or a trip to the grocery store with friends. Even the everyday stress of maintaining decent grades and not sleeping through morning classes can put a lot of pressure on a person.

Here’s an important suggestion: know yourself. What might be a trigger for someone else may not have the slightest effect on you, and vice versa. So when it comes to college, it’s crucial to understand yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, where you excel and what might very well push you over the edge. 

That being said, there are some things to keep in mind that benefit everyone when it comes to identifying and avoiding triggers. 

1. Stick with your people 
Loneliness and isolation can be common triggers for relapse, and both of these are not uncommon on college campuses. To avoid the feeling of needing to cover up these emotions with drug and/or alcohol use, take the time to invest in a support group. These people will not only understand what you’ve been through, but they will provide crucial community when you need it most. Or, if you attended a rehab center, stay in touch with the friends from that community. The shared experience you had with them will offer accountability, community and encouragement. 

2. Steer clear of tempting situations 
Perhaps your substance use habit circled around a group of friends or particular events, such as house parties or concerts. While you are still in recovery, it’s absolutely necessary to avoid those situations and people. Cutting the toxic friendships out of your life can be an incredibly difficult part of the recovery journey, but keep in mind that the people who want what’s best for you aren’t the ones who’re tempting you to change your mind and return to substances. Additionally, don’t go to places where there is pressure to use drugs or alcohol. It takes just as much strength to know yourself and recognize that staying home may be in your best interest. 

3. Take care of yourself 
Strong emotions can be a gateway to relapse. By keeping your emotions in check, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed by anger, stress, anxiety, etc. and, as a result, not feel quite so tempted to drown those emotions with substances. Controlling your emotions is easier said than done, but by taking care of yourself (getting plenty of sleep, eating well, exercising and not over-committing your schedule), you will experience a greater peace of mind and less of a temptation to entertain the thought of substance use. 

4. Let go 
College is characterized by situations you simply cannot control – a messy roommate, a biased professor, a car that breaks down…the list goes on. Drug and alcohol habits can form out of a desire to control that which cannot be controlled, leading to despair and finally, self-medication. Therefore, to keep from feeling drowned in uncontrollable realities, embrace the truth that you cannot control everything. Give yourself the freedom to let things come and go as they may; when things become too overwhelming, never be afraid to ask for help. At times, we all need help figuring out how to handle life’s curveballs. 

5. Adhere to your medication 
Substance and alcohol use habits commonly co-occur with other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or ADHD, and may be triggered by intense episodes of mental distress. In order to avoid the temptation to use, it’s vital to stay on top of your prescribed medications. College life puts a ton of pressure on one’s mind, so make it a top priority to keep your prescriptions filled and your intake schedule on track.

6. Reach out when needed 
Recovery isn’t a journey you need to walk alone, no matter where in the recovery process you find yourself. If you are struggling to overcome triggers or just fear the possibilities of relapse in general, contact someone who can help, such as Real Recovery Clinical Services. Receiving words of comfort and advice, as well as discussing concrete steps to take to avoid relapse in college, can provide the encouragement you need to take on college, relapse-free. Call 1-855-363-7325 today, for more information about PHP, IOP and Outpatient services that can help you sustain recovery efforts.