Heading Back to School After Addiction Treatment? Here’s How To Ace It

If you're ready to get back to class and back on track, study up on these tips to avoid the old hazards and start fresh

August 30, 2022
Woman writing on chalkboard at school

Let’s start with the bottom line: If you’re a young adult who stuck with addiction treatment and are ready to return to school sober, chances are you’re already smarter and tougher than most, even if you may not feel like it yet.

Still, going back to campus or class after treatment will likely be confusing, draining and demoralizing at times. You may encounter some of the people, places and things from the not-so-old days, along with some new curveballs. But if you do a little prep work now and go in with a plan, you can get to know your triggers, build a team of supportive friends and counselors, learn how to manage stress, and get back to your studies and social life.

(If you’re looking for universities with strong recovery communities, we’ve tracked down some of the best, but wherever you are, today’s collegiate recovery programs are putting an exciting new spin on what college can be.)

Know Your Triggers

It’s great that you’re in pursuit of knowledge! But the first thing to know, right off the bat? Your triggers. Triggers are anything that can cause you to think about using drugs or alcohol, or anything that can lead to using again.

For some people, triggers can be environmental, such as being in a place where you used to use drugs or being around people you used substances with. Other triggers can be internal, such as feeling stressed, anxious or depressed.

But if you can suss out your triggers, you can come up with a plan to avoid them or strike them down (… mentally, in a healthy way, of course). This may involve avoiding certain places or people, practicing relaxation techniques, or getting support from a therapist or counselor. Know your enemy, knowledge is power, and all that — if you know what could trip you up, you can be better prepared to deal with it.

Get Tips From the (Counseling) Pros

When you return to school following substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, reach out to your school counselor or university mental health services department to let them know where you’re at with your recovery. They can provide support and guidance as you readjust to student life. A counselor can also connect you with resources on campus, such as support groups, specialized counseling services, aftercare programs and collegiate recovery communities.

A counselor, therapist or mentor can also help you develop a plan to manage stress and triggers. Academics can be hard for anyone, on top of everything else thrown your way. If you start struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for support or just reassurance, whether it’s for your studies, your sobriety or anything else on your mind. The right guidance can help you navigate all this and make the transition back to school smoother.

Best To Avoid Peers When They’re Using

This is a time to focus on your sobriety and academics, but like everyone in early recovery, you’ll have a lot on your mind — some of it welcome, some of it not. It can be easy to fall into old patterns of using drugs or alcohol, especially with friends, but you’ll have to avoid this temptation if you’re going to maintain sobriety.

Only you know if and when you’ll feel comfortable around other people who are using, but it’s best not to risk it early on. Fortunately, it’s actually not too hard to avoid these settings:

  • Find a group of sober friends to hang out with.
  • Focus on your studies and, yes, keep up with your coursework. But also, put some of that energy into new hobbies, or sports. Leave it all on the field!
  • Stay involved in your recovery by attending meetings and therapy appointments.

Follow these steps and you can maintain the gains of your recovery.

Find New Places To Go, New Stuff To Do

This may sound obvious or it may sound logistically impossible, but try to avoid going places that could be triggers for your substance use. If you used drugs or alcohol at school, returning to those same classrooms, hallways and bathrooms could trigger a relapse.

Before going back to school in recovery, take some time to think about what a new routine might look like. Find new places to hang out with friends, get involved in extracurriculars, link up with the local recovery community, plan some hiking and biking trips: Even if you’re going back to your old habitat, you don’t have to return to your old habits.

Don’t Neglect Stress

There are many stress-inducing things to consider when returning to school, from finding the right program to funding your education. But remember the big picture: Reentering school can help you build a solid foundation for your future. Keep a few things in mind to keep your cool:

  • Make a plan first. Before you even return to campus, take some time to figure out what you need to do to succeed and feel fulfilled, in the broadest sense. Make a list of your goals and objectives, and then create a schedule and budget to help you stay on track.
  • Find a support system. Easing back into life after treatment can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to go it alone. Remember your support system. Talk to your friends and family about your plans (and hopes!). Lean on your support groups or counseling services if you need to. They can help you through this transition.
  • Take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally is essential for everyone, in recovery or not. Make sure you eat healthy meals, get enough sleep and take breaks when needed.
  • Seek help. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or overwhelming urges to use, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

Carry a Trigger ‘Skip Card’

One more thing: Many students feel like they are returning to an environment that’s booby-trapped with triggers for their SUD, and that’s understandable, though we hope you feel a little more confident now. But if you’re worried that you could get overwhelmed or discouraged, why not make a trigger “skip card” to help yourself out of a potential jam?

It’s pretty easy. This card can include reminders about what triggers your SUD, along with how to sidestep those triggers. You might also include the emergency contact information of trusted friends, loved ones or support professionals in case you feel at risk of relapse, or even have one. You might just feel better to have it on you.

That’s all for this lesson, but we trust you’ll be diligently procrastinating in no time. When that time comes, we’re here if you want to chat up some new friends, read or watch some intriguing recovery stories, or keep up with the latest in addiction and recovery news.

More Relaunch

Depressed man sitting at wooden table

Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part 3: 'I'm a Loser (And I'm Not What I Appear To Be)'

Don Fertman reaches bottom as the jelly donut hits the wall. The latest installment of the longtime Subway exec's memoir.

Don Fertman

Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part 2: A Day in the Life

Don Fertman woke up one morning 40 years ago and poured himself a drink, as usual. But the future Subway exec didn't know this day would be far from ordinary.

Don Fertman

Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part 1: With a Little Help From My Friends

Don Fertman, longtime Subway exec, writes about a pivotal moment in his 40 years of sobriety: what happened after he went public about his recovery on "Undercover Boss."

Laptop near a Christmas tree

Here's How To Make the Office Holiday Party Recovery-Friendly

Four ways to make your holiday party more inviting to employees who are in recovery, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Man and woman at break room table with coffee

How Can I Be a Sober Ally in the Workplace?

You're not in addiction recovery, but you want to show up for people who are. Great! Here's what that looks like at the office.

Woman and man with coffee standing by the water cooler at work

Is Alcohol Big in Your Work Culture? Here's How To Sidestep — Or Talk About It

The "Mad Men" era may be over, but some workplaces can still be particularly challenging in recovery. Some pointers on putting your sobriety first.

Two women talking in a garden

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.

Men and women in a recovery-friendly workplace

The Benefits of a Recovery-Friendly Workplace

Also called a "recovery-ready workplace," it's a winning proposition for high-quality employers and employees alike.

New Report