5 Sober Tips for Students in Recovery

Published On: December 27, 2023

According to the latest data, roughly 11,000 young people contact drug and alcohol services every year.

Cannabis remains the most popular substance amongst young people, accounting for 89% of treatment.

This is followed by alcohol (41%), ecstasy (12%), and cocaine (9%).

For more information about drug and alcohol statistics amongst young people, please follow this link.

What this data suggests is drugs and alcohol are prevalent among young people and young adults.

Proportionally, many of these young people are students – whether at high school, college, or university.

For students that suffer from addiction and try to recover from it, studying can be very difficult – particularly as students tend to be surrounded by peers using alcohol and drugs.

The purpose of this article is to provide 5 useful tips for students that are in recovery.

In addition, this article will discuss sobriety, the signs of addiction, and what treatment and support are available.

What Is Sobriety?

A man reading in bed

Sobriety, in simple terms, is a state of being sober – that is, not under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

In the context of addiction, sobriety is something that is achieved.

For example, if someone suffers from alcohol or drug addiction, this usually means that they are dependent upon a substance to function properly (more on this below).

As a result, people tend to use the substance regularly to maintain a level of equilibrium. This can make being sober a very difficult experience.

When a person is in recovery, achieving and maintaining sobriety is the main goal.

Both require effort and determination. However, some people in recovery report that maintaining sobriety can be harder than achieving it.

The reason for this is that after achieving sobriety people try to get back to a normal life. This means tackling daily challenges that can be potential triggers that lead to relapse.

For students, this might be the stress of studying, worries about the future, trying to fit in with peers, or attending parties where substances are readily available. (1)

How do I Know If I am Suffering from Addiction?


Understanding addiction can be difficult for students as the line between casual use – such as at the weekend and parties – and dependency can be blurred.

However, there are some clear signs that addiction has occurred. Of these, experiencing withdrawal is probably the most evident sign.

Withdrawal is something that happens when the brain and body have become dependent upon a substance to function properly. Drugs and/or alcohol contain chemicals that alter the brain in various ways.

For example, cocaine triggers dopamine receptors in the brain that lead to people experiencing feelings of euphoria and happiness.

Over time, the brain stops producing these chemicals naturally. Therefore, when a person stops using, they might experience depression. As a result, the person might start to experience intense cravings – this is withdrawal.

This is just one example and withdrawal symptoms vary from substance to substance. (2)

However, some more universal withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Paranoia
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • A lack of appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Irritation
  • Shakes (tremors)

If people experience any of the symptoms whilst not taking a substance, it is likely that have developed a dependency.

In addition to withdrawal, people that have an addiction tend to experience noticeable changes in their personality and behaviours.

Examples of this might include:

  • Becoming more irrational, easily irritated, or paranoid.
  • Experiencing rapid changes in mood and emotions, such as becoming angry for no reason
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviours, such as using the substance at inappropriate times or engaging in criminal activities to pay for the substance
  • No longer taking care of hygiene and personal care
  • For students, not engaging with responsibilities, such as studying and coursework
  • No longer socialising, unless the substance is involved
  • No longer engaging in hobbies

Although these listed things are indicators of addiction, it is still advised that people speak with a medical professional such as a GP.

5 Tips for Staying Sober as a College Student

Binge drinking

There are many things that students can do whilst they are in recovery that are beneficial. For this article, here are five broad but useful tips:

  1. Be careful regarding certain social settings
  2. Develop a healthy lifestyle
  3. Build a good support network
  4. Work on recovery-based skills
  5. Develop a relapse prevention plan

These five steps will be covered in more detail below.

It should be noted, however, that these steps are not in order of importance. Each is equally important and can be done alongside each other.

Step 1. Be Careful Regarding Certain Social Settings


When trying to achieve and then maintain sobriety, one of the main goals is to avoid potential triggers.

For students, one of the most potentially difficult triggers is social events, such as parties and hanging out with friends.

Many people in the UK see university as a prime opportunity to experiment with substances.

This means that a lot of social settings have alcohol and drugs. For those in recovery, these are settings to avoid.

Not only do such settings have the potential to lead to cravings, but people might experience peer pressure.

Many students might ask, then, does this mean I will have no social life? The answer to this is no.

Instead, it is about making sure you are hanging around people that are not using substances and focusing on what is important – building healthy relationships and studying. (3)

Step 2. Develop a Healthy Lifestyle

healthy detox

One of the best things that students in recovery can do is build a healthy lifestyle.

This might include:

  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising
  • Creating a work schedule
  • Engaging in hobbies

Eating healthy is a great way to maintain sobriety. There are many reasons for this.

In addition to the obvious health benefits, fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins that are important for improving a person’s mood and well-being.

Eating well also helps prevent relapse. Because, in most cases, people have developed poor eating habits as a result of addiction, they can mistakes feeling hungry for substance cravings.

Having a well-balanced diet can help prevent this. The same is true for exercising – whether jogging, going for a walk, or weightlifting.

Exercising also releases endorphins – neurotransmitters that help the brain alleviate pain and produce feelings of pleasure.

For students, specifically, putting time into creating a work schedule is also useful. This will help them stay focused and have something to work towards.

Finally, hobbies are a great way to maintain sobriety. Like having a work schedule, hobbies can serve as a useful and productive distraction from potential triggers.

In addition, many hobbies have holistic benefits that help with mood and well-being.

Examples of this include gardening, playing an instrument, and creative hobbies such as painting. (4)

Step 3. Build a Good Support Network

Two women hugging

Having a good support network is pivotal for people in recovery. Not only will a support network offer advice but will be able to provide some accountability.

In addition, they will be there to listen when people are struggling and provide support. (5)

Key characteristics of people that are good for a support network include:

  • People that have your best interests in mind
  • People that are willing to listen
  • People that are positive and encouraging
  • People that have been through recovery and know what it is like
  • People that are not using substances
  • People with academic qualifications, such as psychologists

Step 4. Work on Recovery-based Skills

Working on recovery-based skills is a good way to maintain sobriety.

These might include:

Many people relapse due to stress. For students that have a busy schedule and full-on workload, it is easy to become overwhelmed.

Learning how to deal with stress is very important. This might involve, as mentioned above, exercising or engaging in a hobby.

Studies have found that meditation and yoga can be particularly useful for dealing with stress.

Cognitive reappraisal is another useful tool to learn. Studies have found that often nations are predicated by negative thought patterns.

For example, negative thoughts lead a person to use a substance. Understanding these thought patterns and how to change them into positive ones can help prevent this.

A good place to start is to explore Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is based on cognitive reappraisal and can help people understand and learn about their negative thought patterns. (6)

Similarly, negative emotions can also lead to negative behaviours. Another useful recovery-based skill is learning emotional management.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) can be good for this. DBT is like CBT but, instead of focusing on thoughts, it focuses on negative emotions.

Finally, gaining good knowledge about addiction is a useful recovery skill.

This can help people understand themselves better and understand why/how people relapse.

Step 5. Develop a Relapse Prevention Plan

One of the most important steps in any treatment program for addiction is the creation of a relapse prevention plan.

However, although it is good to create one alongside a medical professional, it is not necessary.

Relapse prevention plans, as the name suggests, are documents – usually written – that contain information that will help people maintain sobriety.

In most cases, they start with notes on all the achievements that the person has made – this might include becoming sober, going through treatment, overcoming withdrawal and detox, therapy types, or developing and repairing relationships.

The purpose of this is to remind people how much progress they have made. Further, relapse prevention plans often have a list of potential triggers – this might include certain people, relationships, work, or social settings.

Finally, relapse prevention plans will contain useful tips on how to deal with such potential triggers.

Commonly, these are notes on stress management, emotional management, cognitive reappraisal, and support networks. (7)

Treatment and Support for Addiction/Recovery?

One man with his hand on another's shoulder in support

For students in the UK, many free organisations help with obtaining and maintaining sobriety, such as Rehab4Addiction, SMART Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Services such organisations provide include:

For more information about local organisations and the services that they provide, please see here.

In addition, the NHS offers outpatient treatment programs and funding for residential treatment.


(1) Snow, Matthew G., James O. Prochaska, and Joseph S. Rossi. “Processes of change in Alcoholics Anonymous: maintenance factors in long-term sobriety.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol 55, no. 3 (1994): 362-371.

(2) Alavi, Seyyed Salman, Masoud Ferdosi, Fereshte Jannatifard, Mehdi Eslami, Hamed Alaghemandan, and Mehrdad Setare. “Behavioral addiction versus substance addiction: Correspondence of psychiatric and psychological views.” International journal of preventive medicine 3, no. 4 (2012): 290.

(3) Anderson, Tammy L., and Frank Ripullo. “Social setting, stigma management, and recovering drug addicts.” Humanity & Society 20, no. 3 (1996): 25-43.

(4) Lynch, Wendy J., Alexis B. Peterson, Victoria Sanchez, Jean Abel, and Mark A. Smith. “Exercise as a novel treatment for drug addiction: a neurobiological and stage-dependent hypothesis.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 37, no. 8 (2013): 1622-1644.

(5) Best, David W., and Dan I. Lubman. “The recovery paradigm: A model of hope and change for alcohol and drug addiction.” Australian family physician 41, no. 8 (2012): 593-597.

(6) McRae, Kateri, Bethany Ciesielski, and James J. Gross. “Unpacking cognitive reappraisal: goals, tactics, and outcomes.” Emotion 12, no. 2 (2012): 250.

(7) Plan, Relapse Prevention. “Relapse prevention.” (2003).

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