Your Guide To Hanging Out and Making Friends in College — Sober

Doing college sans drugs and alcohol doesn't have to be a struggle. Some tips on making bonds that'll last and having a blast

August 15, 2023
Two women talking in a garden

We’re in a golden age of sober socializing, sober pride, alcohol-free drinks and sober lifestyles for the young and chic. At All Sober, we write about these things a lot, and it’s all true! But that doesn’t mean sobriety is easy. And if you’re in college … well, switching to sobriety during college is a pretty tough course.

The good news is plenty of people do it anyway, and you don’t have to sacrifice any of the “college experience” in the process. If you’re a now-sober student reading this, you likely understand that substance use on campus can crash into territory well beyond harmless partying, and experts are seeing this too. According to the Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry, “In recent decades substance use has become one of the most widespread health problems on college campuses in the United States.”

Health problems aren’t much of a party, and you deserve high marks for achieving sobriety young, which can be uniquely challenging. You’ve taken steps to regain control of your life.

Now you’re ready to resume your education, potentially in a campus environment where drugs and alcohol seem to be everywhere. Perhaps the best way to avoid returning to unhealthy routines and behaviors in college is surrounding yourself with sober peers and a healthy support system. Some universities are particularly well equipped with collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) and communities (CRCs), but you can find friends and fun, sober, on any quad.

Going Back to College Sober

Many students choose to go to rehabilitation and treatment programs during school breaks when they have time away from the influence of college peers.

Returning to school after treatment can be tricky. Some people feel obliged to get back in with their old friend groups. Your old friends may be great! But they may also use substances excessively or may have encouraged your substance use. It’s OK if you need to limit their presence in your life, for now, to keep your sobriety solid.

There are other challenges you’ll want to be aware of, too.

  • Being around students, friends or not, who use substances visibly and frequently
  • Readily available drugs or alcohol on or off campus
  • Going to parties where there’s a lot of substance use
  • Living in dorms where substance use is rampant

The more time you spend around classmates who talk about or actively use substances, the higher your risk of relapse or recurrence of use. Removing yourself from that influence in your early recovery — to whatever extent possible — and surrounding yourself with sober peers can give you the support you need to feel confident in your continuing sobriety.

Why Make Sober Friends in College?

It may feel disorienting and anxiety-inducing to socialize sober, at first, but it’s worth the effort. Making new sober friends in college can give you new outlets for self-growth and open up opportunities to explore new group dynamics. Being open about your sobriety can help you connect with others on and off campus.

Making new friends can also be, you know, just plain fun and rewarding. A varied social life ensures you’ll expand your interests and find new activities to fill your day.

But having a strong bond with sober friends in college can support your recovery in ways that may not be immediately obvious. You may find you have …

  • Increased accountability
  • An expanded support system
  • Fewer self-isolating behaviors and routines
  • Improved social skills
  • A reduced risk of developing additional disorders or mental health symptoms
  • Decreased stress!

Making new social connections with sober peers can help you maintain healthy routines and provide new outlets of social support. You can take advantage of these benefits by finding sober groups with activities or interests you enjoy. Most colleges have a variety of groups where you can join like-minded people and grow your social circle. If you’re not sure where to start, online resources, social media, on-campus news boards and students activities fairs will have information.

How To Make Friends and Find Sober Groups

Many people make friends and find simpatico groups through word of mouth or a quick online search to see what meet-up options are going on in their area. Every college has different types of groups and clubs where people can meet, share positive experiences and enjoy leisure activities. You may have been in some — but maybe not the ones that are substance-free or pretty close to it. There are actually quite a few.

Some examples of popular college groups that offer sober activities include:

  • Sports teams
  • Creative groups, including ones for music, writing, dance and art
  • Outdoor activities groups for biking, running, hiking, swimming, camping, climbing, kayaking, etc.

Self-help and sober support groups are also available on most campuses. More and more colleges are forming collegiate recovery programs, where you’ll find other students who have lived experiences similar to yours. Sobriety is the norm for them, and you can be open about your issues with substances and sobriety among people who get it. You can, of course, meet people in support groups who share your interests and create entirely new groups to enjoy sober activities together.

What About My Old Friends?

Generally, you’ll make early sobriety easier on yourself by avoiding things that remind you of substance use. Hanging out in sober settings with sober people is a top-notch way to do that — sober folks of any age will agree.

But if you’re returning to the same college campus or a college near where you grew up, you may be wondering what to do about your old friends and the old spots you used to go to. You’ll have to find ways to cope with seeing these people or walking past places where you used to use drugs or alcohol. Such reminders can trigger intrusive thoughts, cravings or compulsions.

A few ways to manage these potential triggers include:

  • Creating a solid support system of loved ones and peers you can contact if you ever feel emotionally unstable
  • Establishing firm boundaries with old friends and limiting your time with them (or even avoiding them until you’re a bit further along in sobriety)
  • Using the coping tools you learned, or are learning, in therapy to manage any intrusive thoughts or cravings
  • Exposure therapy for places you cannot avoid that may remind you of past behaviors

The main thing to remember is you’re in control of your life now, and you don’t need to let others influence you in negative ways.

And soon, as you gain confidence in your sobriety, you’ll be the one supporting and encouraging other students or community members starting out in recovery.

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