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5 Essential Strategies for College Students in Recovery: Staying Sober and Thriving Academically

College Students in Recovery
College Students in Recovery

Back in the day, my eating disorder (aka “Ed”) would have provided all kinds of ways to cope with life adversity including college living. Unfortunately, none of his coping mechanisms involve recovery. Have you heard Ed chiming in with excuses to cut back on your own recovery efforts during the unprecedented time of college life?

Ed might say that holding onto “just” one or two eating disorder behaviors isn’t that big of a deal. In my own recovery, Ed frequently said something like, “It’s okay to eat the entire bag of cheddar and sour cream chips— it will make you feel better.” Yet what I learned is that a little more can hurt a lot. My former spiritual teacher who was in remission for alcoholism for over 25 years used to share that we can’t leave one ember burning in a substance use forest fire. If we hold onto even just one drinking, drug, or eating disorder behavior, the substance use (Ed) fire can roar again — possibly bigger than ever before. 

In the early stages of my recovery, I often found it challenging to counter Ed's lies on my own. However, partnering with others provided the strength and confidence I needed to confront Ed effectively. One of the most invaluable resources in my recovery toolbox was my spiritual teacher. Having overcome substance use disorder and alcoholism, and with a background in social work, she was the ideal guide to help me navigate the complexities of my journey. Another crucial strategy was Meal Prep Sunday, which played a significant role in helping me stay on track.

Her wisdom and experience offered me profound insights and practical strategies, creating a strong foundation for my recovery. With her support, I learned to build resilience and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Meal Prep Sunday, on the other hand, provided structure and stability to my weekly routine. By dedicating time each week to prepare nutritious meals, I could maintain a balanced diet, which was essential for both my physical health and emotional well-being. This practice not only helped me stay committed to my recovery goals but also minimized the stress and uncertainty of daily meal planning.

Together, these tools—my spiritual teacher's guidance and the discipline of Meal Prep Sunday—empowered me to make consistent progress. They reinforced my determination to overcome challenges and embrace a healthier, more fulfilling life. By integrating these strategies into my recovery journey, I found the support and structure necessary to thrive. Below are five additional strategies that help me that can help you too.

Strategies for College Students in Recovery

Back-to-school season sees students flocking to college campuses, ready to embark on or continue their higher learning journey. However, the social and academic pressures of collegiate life can pose significant challenges for those in recovery. How can students in recovery avoid triggers and maintain their sobriety amidst these pressures?

Beyond the demands of academics, college life often involves parties where drugs and alcohol are readily available. This environment, combined with the stress of adjusting to newfound freedom, can lead to behaviors like binge eating, sugar addiction, and people-pleasing in an attempt to fit in. In 2015, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 41 percent of college students use illegal drugs. Without a robust recovery program, these conditions can easily trigger relapse and unhealthy coping mechanisms.

The Sober Student: Five Strategies for Maintaining Sobriety

To help students in recovery navigate college life while maintaining their sobriety, consider the following best practices:

1. Plan Ahead

Establish a recovery support system before arriving on campus. Research and connect with 12-step programs or other sober support groups available at your college. Participate in sober social events and organizations like AA or NA, either on campus or in the surrounding community. Structure your courses and study time around your recovery schedule and consider sober living arrangements. Prioritize recovery in all your planning, that includes, meal planning to prevent binge eating on sugar/carbs later or during stressful times.

2. Be Prepared

Academic stress is inevitable but manageable. Develop a strong set of coping skills and stress management techniques before classes begin. Learn to manage stress through journaling, expressive art, meditation, practicing gratitude, and regular exercise. Have a plan in place to combat triggers before they arise for example a sober or recovery coach.

3. Stay Focused

Keep your larger academic goals in mind. Staying committed to your educational objectives can help you avoid the pitfalls that derail many students. Form a sober study group, create a balanced and realistic academic work plan, and seek tutoring if needed. Be mindful not to overload your schedule and consider the time commitment of each course outside of the classroom.

4. Get Healthy

Physical health is crucial for maintaining sobriety. Avoid the typical college diet of fast food, frozen pizzas, and unhealthy snacks. Instead, develop a nutrition plan that supports your recovery and academic performance. Regular, healthy meals can significantly enhance your well-being and resilience.

5. Have Fun

There are countless opportunities for sober fun in college. Join intramural sports leagues, student clubs, volunteer organizations, or attend special events. Engage in activities that align with your interests, whether it's advocating for a cause, joining a subject-based club, or attending symposiums. Find friends who share your interests and create your own enjoyable experiences.

Enhancing Your College Experience

Recovery offers a unique opportunity to enrich your college life in meaningful, enjoyable ways. By leveraging your support community and recovery plan, you can have fun while staying focused on your sobriety and academic success. Embrace the journey and make the most of this transformative period.



I Can Help in Developing A Plan For Self-Care

Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your own busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.

Dr. Nikki LeToya White
Dr. Nikki LeToya White

About The Author:

Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC Art Wellness Studio, and Botanica to provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to the fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. I love my low-sugar balanced lifestyle.

Best Regard

Dr. Nikki LeToya White


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