Signs That Substance Use or Mental Health is Interfering With College

Mental health issues can affect anyone at any age, including adolescents and young adults. Unfortunately, when it comes to issues with addiction and mental health, college students are not immune.

Fortunately, a sober living arrangement can provide flexible addiction and mental health services if you or a loved one needs help while still enrolled in college. Below are some signs that you or a loved one might need a sober living arrangement due to ongoing mental health problems or problems with substance use, and how they can drastically improve your quality of life.

Is Mental Illness Common Among College Students?

New surveys show a college mental health crisis happening in the United States. Around 70% of counseling centers on campuses around the nation said they believed the number of college students with mental health issues are increasing.

Prevalent mental illness concerns among college students include:

  • Anxiety: 41.6% of students say they suffer from this condition that can cause panic attacks, excessive worry, and restlessness.

  • Depression: 36.4% of students say they struggle with depression, which can include thoughts of suicide, sadness, and feelings of emptiness.

  • Relationship problems: 35.8% of students have trouble maintaining intimate relationships.

Other severe mental illnesses that can affect anyone at any age, including college students, include:

  • Schizophrenia: A disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and catatonia. The onset of symptoms can occur in early adulthood, and early identification and early intervention are required.

  • Bipolar disorder: 3% of college students are affected by mood swings and periods of mania or severe depression, which are symptoms of this disorder.

  • Trauma and stress-related disorders: 8% are affected due to a past traumatic incident leading to anxiety and triggers.

  • Personality disorders: 1% of students are affected by disorders like antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and related mental health issues.

Mental Health Symptoms That Signal A Need for Mental Health Services 

Mental health should be a top priority for college students. While it can be an exciting time to send your loved one off to college, it’s also important to know the signs of a mental health problem or substance abuse problem.

Lack of mental health awareness can lead to you or a loved one not getting help and having worsening addiction or mental health issues, risking their ability to obtain a higher education.

Signs of poor mental health or addiction in college students can include:

  • Taking more days off than usual at school or work

  • Missing or skipping classes

  • Expressing thoughts of depression or even suicidal ideation 

  • Poor eating habits

  • Poor academic performance

  • Loss of interest in activities they once found enjoyable

  • Non-suicidal self-injury, which could be a sign of emotional dysregulation

  • Panic attacks, even out of the blue

  • Complaining of increased stress

  • Psychosis or hallucinations, such as hearing or seeing things that aren’t there

  • Trouble maintaining relationships or friendships

Although it’s normal to feel stressed during exams or maybe during a big project, continuously suffering from these symptoms can signal a serious mental health condition or substance use disorder that should be addressed immediately. 

These signs indicate that you or a loved one might require mental health treatment, such as that offered at a sober living facility, outpatient treatment, or inpatient treatment. 

Does Addiction Affect College Students?

College students are subject to both substance use and alcohol use disorders. Around 2 million full-time college students admitted to illicit drug use according to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration.

Studies have also shown that young people in college engage in risky and excessive drinking behaviors. Around 60% of students in college admitted to drinking alcohol in the past year, with 39% engaging in binge drinking.

For these students, access to flexible mental health care and substance abuse recovery services such as those at a sober living facility can help keep addiction and mental health issues under control.

Factors that can lead to students developing substance abuse or alcohol use disorder include:

  • Poor emotional well-being and difficulty coping with mental illness can lead to more alcohol or substance use

  • Fellow student peer pressure to drink or use substances

  • Genetic risk factors, such as having a family member with a substance use disorder

  • Academic pressure

  • Lack of social support network and loss of friends, especially during freshman year

  • Using drugs to improve academic performance, stay up later, and increase energy

  • Using drugs out of curiosity

A sober living program can provide a structured and safe environment to support college students’ lives as they recover from substance use disorders or mental health issues. Sober living homes don’t allow substances to enter the facility and have staff on-site in case a student experiences cravings or troubling thoughts. These programs also help teach alternative coping mechanisms for stress caused by school and life as a young adult.

Substance Use or Alcohol Use Disorder Symptoms

There are certain signs that your loved one might struggle with drug or alcohol addiction while in college. These warning signs can go hand in hand with mental illnesses. These signs can include:

  • Poor academic performance

  • Increased reliance on alcohol or drugs to function

  • Physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as shakiness, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or serious withdrawal such as delirium tremens

  • Relying on substances to get rid of depression or anxiety disorder symptoms

  • Abandoning groups, clubs, or classes to engage in using substances or alcohol

  • Asking for money to pay for alcohol or drugs, instead of attending college classes

If your loved one is struggling with these signs and symptoms of SUD or AUD, they will need to engage in addiction treatment and mental health treatment as soon as possible. Fortunately, sober living homes provide flexible treatment options for SUD and AUD so students can eventually continue with their schooling after stabilizing in a sober living environment while getting the help they need. Sober Living homes often allow students to continue their education during their stay as well.

How to Get Your Loved One Help

Students should have access to flexible mental health and addiction treatment programs that can improve their overall mental health and sobriety.

Flexible college student mental health and SUD treatment options include:

  • Free counseling centers: Campuses often offer limited counseling sessions for full-time students. They’re a good option to start on the right path to recovery for students that are beginning to seek help. However, these alone might not be enough for sustained recovery.

  • Outpatient treatment: Sober living facilities can help students with psychiatric disorders or substance abuse issues recover in a safe, stable, and structured environment. Many sober living programs work closely with recovery centers that provide outpatient mental health services, such as therapy, psychiatry, and case management. Those that need mentorship, additional educational programs, and flexible counseling options can benefit from such programs. New Life House Sober Living is a long-standing program that provides these services and has seen success for over 35 years.

What to Look For in a Sober Living Recovery Program 

There are several important aspects to consider when choosing the right sober living program, which include the following.

Minimal Level of Care

For both mental health and addiction services, it’s important to consider the level of care your loved one needs. If a student is undergoing a mental health crisis, or if they are experiencing severe withdrawal while trying to quit drugs and alcohol, both of these might warrant inpatient treatment and stabilization.

However, for most college students, the next step of the journey is a program that will help them transition into successful living, teaches life skills, and provides a strong peer-based community. Such is the case with New Life House, wherein young adults are provided with structure, accountability, community, and access to educational and mental health services which can set a successful foundation for any prospective college student who struggles with addiction.

Students can receive services at sober living homes such as:

  • Group therapy

  • Individual therapy

  • Medication-assisted treatment

  • Structured environment

  • Support groups

  • Advisement from other people in recovery who have experienced similar struggles

Licensed Staff 

Look for a facility that has a licensed psychologist, nursing staff, or other mental health professionals on hand when your loved one is in recovery.

Most sober living homes have staff available during the day, overnight, and on weekends. They can help provide structure and encouragement and answer questions about the recovery process for students in sober living. They can also help students experiencing cravings and distressing thoughts during a mental health crisis.


Most sober living homes offer financing options to help pay for treatment. These include:

  • Accepting various insurance coverage plans for mental healthcare, including those of a parent if a student is under the age of 26

  • Accepting private and state-funded or federally-funded insurance like Medicaid

  • Offering scholarships for students in need of treatment that need additional financial help

  • Flexible payment options such as month-to-month arrangements

New Life House Recovery also offers educational programs that teach patients the importance of financial management, and help introduce new skills for better treatment outcomes.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Around 17 million people in the United States are currently struggling with a dual diagnosis, meaning they have both substance abuse issues and mental illness. With mental illness and substance abuse a growing public health concern, it’s more common now to find programs that offer dual diagnosis treatment.

If your college student has both mental illness and addiction, make sure to find a sober living program that offers dual diagnosis treatment such as:

  • Trauma therapy

  • Mental health counseling

  • Medication-assisted treatment

  • Stabilization services for mental health crises or withdrawal

  • Clinical staff trained in treating mental health disorders


Studies show that many college students are hesitant to seek out treatment due to embarrassment and because they would rather prefer to handle a problem alone. Other students might also worry they won’t be able to handle family responsibilities, such as taking care of children or attending classes on campus.

For students that would rather handle their problems alone and are hesitant to engage in treatment options, it’s important to give them flexible options to improve mental health and substance abuse disorder outcomes.

Sober living homes can help provide a stable environment while also allowing students to fulfill their academic responsibilities. This is the same for both high school students and college students alike. Unlike other mental health centers, sober living homes are not locked environments, and students and free to come and go as they wish.

Students can address their addiction and mental health concerns while still attending college classes or their regular jobs while in a sober living home. This can help reduce hesitation and be the push students need to engage in treatment fully.

Get Your College Student The Help They Need At New Life House Today

If your loved one’s performance in school is being affected due to substance use or alcohol use issues and mental health, know that you’re not alone. Many schools are aware of the growing problem of mental illness among college students.

New Life House is here to help students and their families find the best flexible treatment options to recover from addiction and mental health, and can help you work with college administrators to find a program that fits into your schedule. Call us today for a consultation and to get started on the road to a better future.

Last Updated on September 12, 2023


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