When is The Time Right to Go Back To School Sober

When Is The Time Right To Go Back To School Sober?

One of the most exciting parts of getting sober is jumping back into the stream of life. But when is the right time to go back to school sober?

Back To School Sober


One of the joys of getting sober is regaining the opportunity to participate in the many exciting aspects of life that get lost while abusing drugs and alcohol. Regaining family relationships, joining society in the workforce, making new friends, and pursuing life-long dreams. For many, one of the biggest steps along this journey is higher education. For those getting sober young, college is also something that is often compromised during active addiction. How do you know when you are ready to jump back into school though, and are there any dangers to doing so too early?

New Opportunities, New Challenges


Entering the academic world brings with it all sorts of awesome new opportunities. Chances to learn and grow are abundant, and in todays day and age a college degree is a very useful tool in getting into many careers. In fact, in a lot of fields, it is necessary. College also brings with it the chance to investigate new interests and be exposed to ideas that otherwise may not be presented in an individuals life, something that gives it a high intrinsic value even without the accompanying degree. However, it also brings with it some new challenges for the young recovering addict. There are high levels of stress that are often associated with higher education, something which can be triggering for ill-prepared addicts. There is also a necessity for a higher level of planning and time management, a skill that many newly sober alcoholics simply do not possess. Additionally, many college settings are rife with partying, drug abuse and unhealthy behaviors, making them a dangerous environment for the newly sober.

Is The Time Right?


So how does one know when it is the right time to go back to school sober? Making this decision, it is important to remember that the answer will not be the same for everyone. There are some central things to consider, regardless of the individual though. First of all, how secure is someone in their recovery? Have they established a recovery routine, regular 12 step meetings, built a solid community, and done the heavy internal lifting that early sobriety requires? To many, a good benchmark for these questions is whether or not they have finished their steps. A lot of tumultuous emotions get brought to the surface during the initial 12 step process, and without taking the time to work through these and experience the freedom that comes on the other side, introducing the high stress environment of college can be potentially dangerous. Without a solid foundation in recovery, the chances of relapse as soon as something new is introduced is substantially higher.

Real Life Experience


How much experience does an individual have dealing with the real world? This question is especially pertinent for young people who may have little to no life experience from before they started using. Especially if someone is coming straight from a sober living or treatment environment, both of which are highly beneficial getting sober young, it is important to spend some time contending with the challenges that real life holds without the safety and structure of a program. Getting some work experience that can teach time management and responsibility, understanding the value of financial responsibility, and taking some time to live independently are very helpful if the goal is to set someone up or academic success.

Party Environments


Another consideration to take into account when looking at academic pursuits is the environment that often surrounds college. If someone is planning to go back to school sober, they need to understand that they are going to be surrounded by other people their own age that not only are not sober, but are probably engaging in many of the behaviors that did not work in their own lives. High risk drinking, drug use and other unhealthy choices are common in college environments. A good solution to this issue is carefully choosing the way that someone introduces college into their life. Community colleges do not always have the same level of partying associated with them, and for many, are a much better option financially. This gives sober students an opportunity to go to school in a location that is still close by where they got sober and not have to leave their community behind to go into a more volatile environment. It also gives them an opportunity to stay rooted and have a group of friends and support to turn to when and if things get difficult in the academic setting. If this option is chosen, there is always the opportunity to transfer into a more traditional university down the line. By doing this, students get transitioned into the college life more slowly, while developing the skills necessary to succeed and getting some more time sober under their belt.

Making The Decision


Ultimately, any big life change like going to college is better served when someone has a foundation in their recovery. A good rule of thumb is not hold off on introducing large changes life this until after someone’s first year sober, and they have gained some experience and success contending with real life responsibilities in recovery. When choosing to go back to school sober, not rushing is key. College is not going anywhere, but if someone tries to do too much too soon, they run the risk of compromising their recovery. Next week, we will talk about some considerations and tips for making sure that if this course of action is chosen, recovery remains a priority. Do you have any experience with making the decision to go back to school sober? Please share in the comments section so we can hear what you’ve gone through!


  • Wendi Knox
    Posted at 19:11h, 15 January Reply

    Thanks for tackling this subject, Howard. It is definitely on our minds as the months go by. As academically-oriented parents, college has been part of the discussion since pre-school. We have to constantly slow ourselves down. And remember like you said, that “college isn’t going anywhere.” Nearly all the kids our son started school with are now juniors in college. And we have to constantly remind ourselves to “stay in our lane.” In a society that is constantly rushing to the finish line, it takes a lot of mindfulness to slow down. And to trust, step-by-step that our son will get where he needs to go. In his own time. And hopefully, sober.

    • Howard Barker
      Posted at 12:43h, 17 January Reply

      Thanks for the comment Wendi! The good news is that if recovery comes first, not only is college not going anywhere, but academic success is so much more likely. Getting started with school quickly doesn’t equal finishing school quickly – going into college with a solid foundation in recovery can ultimately shorten the journey to graduation!

  • Kevin Smith
    Posted at 18:09h, 16 January Reply

    What a great and informative article. This has been a question that has been percolating in the back of my mind for our son. Comforting to read and process!

    • Howard Barker
      Posted at 12:46h, 17 January Reply

      Thanks Kevin! Be sure to check back tomorrow morning for the follow up article where we discuss strategies and considerations for staying sober once college is introduced.

  • Ava S
    Posted at 19:13h, 17 January Reply

    This has been a big question for me, so thank you for your thoughts about it. What you say sounds right. It seems like having a sense of direction towards college could help a newly sober graduate not feel lost, with no way forward — I guess they will know when to go back? Looking forward to your next article, and thanks!

    • Howard Barker
      Posted at 19:47h, 17 January Reply

      Hey Ava! We talk a little bit about that planning in our next article. Another great way to know when the time is right to go back is leaning on others with more experience! In recovery, we have a huge array of resources available to us in the form of other people that have already experienced what we are going through. For young people in sobriety, utilizing our mentors, reaching out to other sober individuals and running our thinking and decisions through sponsors are all ways to know when the time is right.

  • Robyn
    Posted at 09:35h, 21 January Reply

    Hot topic ! I have been wondering what time is the right time for our son to finish up college and get his degree, he is sooo close. Thank you for reminding me that college is not going anywhere.Staying sober is so much more important than the college diploma, looking forward to your follow up article !

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