Should You Go to Rehab as a College Student?

Medically Reviewed

If you struggle with an addiction, you need evidence-based treatment through detox and rehabilitation, but for college students, this process may seem intimidating or overwhelming. Thanks to changes in the understanding of addiction and substance abuse, along with changes in treatment approaches, college students have access to more appropriate, supportive treatment resources than ever.

College Life and Transition Mean High Stress

College students are going through a major transition. They often move away from home to a new location, attend demanding classes, and meet new people in different social settings. This period can be a lot of fun, but it can also be very stressful. This stress may manifest as an addiction to substances like alcohol, prescription stimulants, or painkillers.

If you are a college student and you find that you crave drugs, abuse substances more often than you intend to, often feel sick from using drugs or alcohol, or feel like you need a substance like Adderall to get through your day or complete a task, you may struggle with addiction.

There are many resources for treating addictions, including those for adolescents and young adults, but leaving college to get help can be frightening. What will this do to your future? Can you take the time away from your studies to go to rehab?

Threats to Student Sobriety and Getting Into Rehab

The 2016 Monitoring the Future (MTF) College Students and Young Adults Survey Results (CSYAS) found that some drugs were less of a problem among college-aged kids, while others were becoming more of a problem on campus.

For example, in 2006, marijuana was abused by 4.3 percent of college-attending individuals who were 19 to 22 years old. In 2016, that number rose to 4.9 percent.

Heavy alcohol use is higher among college students than their non-college peers: 32.4 percent of college students, compared to 28.7 percent of non-college-attending young adults, reported binge drinking in the prior two weeks. Nicotine abuse is lower in college students, but amphetamine abuse, particularly abuse of “study drugs,” was higher.

Young adults entering college are exposed to frequent substance abuse for many reasons. Substance abuse may look safe, fun, or acceptable, leading to struggles with addiction as they participate.

Talking about students who are in recovery or addiction treatment and learning more about these support structures may encourage more college students who struggle with addiction to get the help they need. It is also necessary to understand the environment that students (both who abuse substances but are not addicted and those in recovery) exist in and how this environment promotes risky drug and alcohol abuse.

  • Many students feel that they are forced to choose between their academic life and overcoming their addiction. This is highlighted in fear of leaving school — fear of losing academic standing; the consequences of dropping out of classes; losing financial support from grants, loans, or scholarships; and worrying about how a gap in their academic record would look to future employers.
  • Students, especially undergraduate students, typically live on campus. This means they have access to certain activities, but this may also expose them to harmful social scenarios, increased social pressure, and fewer friends participating in safe, sober activities. Campuses can be unintentionally isolating, which can trigger a relapse.
  • Struggling with stigma and social pressure, alongside academic pressure, can lead to depression and anxiety symptoms, which increase the risk of relapse.

Fortunately, there are more ways that colleges, student organizations, health care institutions, and the law all support college students getting treatment for addiction, including going to rehab.

Increasing Support on College Campuses for Addiction Treatment

As a college student, you may assume that entering rehab means you have to quit school, leave campus, and enter an inpatient treatment program. For some students, this is necessary, but for many, outpatient treatment and support groups, after medically supervised detox, can suffice for recovery.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recognizes many levels of addiction treatment, from prevention to high-level, long-term medical care in an inpatient program. Depending on your specific needs, you may or may not need to leave campus to incorporate recovery into your academic and career life.

Medically supervised detox is not likely to be available on campus, but starting this with treatment to manage withdrawal is crucial. Most colleges and universities offer a formal leave of absence, which is a time when you are not technically enrolled in classes but have stated that you intend to re-enroll after a period of time. Studying abroad, family and medical emergencies, or other personal matters are all reasons that students take leaves of absence. This allows you time to gather resources to help yourself recover and become mentally, physically, and emotionally stable again.

To take a leave of absence:

  • Talk to a school administrator, academic advisor, counselor, or student representative about this option.
  • Discuss your needs and options for time away.
  • Make a formal plan and submit the necessary paperwork.

Schools are also beginning to offer sober housing for students who need help during recovery, and students themselves are organizing sober parties, social events, sober fraternities, and sororities, and other options. As of 2018, there are an estimated 186 recovery programs on campuses across the United States, according to the Association of Recovery in Higher Education. These programs are working with school administrators so that lower GPAs, missing standardized tests, dropped or failed classes, and gaps in education will not hurt the student’s chances of graduating or finding a successful career after they receive their diploma.

If you struggle with addiction, regardless of age, you can get help with evidence-based detox and rehabilitation. Going to rehab is essential, and your college can support you in this endeavor.

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