Supporting College Students In Recovery During New Year’s

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on January 13, 2022

College students in addiction recovery may be dealing with issues related to stress, co-occurring mental health disorders, and missing out on peers’ New Year’s parties. Loved ones of these students in recovery can help by having sober New Year’s celebrations centered on recovery and positive mindsets.

How To Help College Students In Recovery Over New Year's

Navigating addiction recovery on New Year’s Eve can be complicated, especially for college students in recovery.

Many of their peers will be going to clubs, local bars, parties, and other events that may be centered on alcohol and drug use.

If you have a friend, child, or another college-aged loved one in recovery this New Year’s, review some of the tips and resources below to help them get through the holiday sober.

Ways Loved Ones Of College Students In Recovery Can Help This New Year’s

There are several factors to consider when creating a plan for New Year’s celebrations with your loved one.

For example, a college student in recovery may be more vulnerable to relapse if they’re just beginning the recovery process. The same may go for those with co-occurring mental illnesses.

Talk with your friend, child, or family member to determine what steps are best-suited to their recovery needs this holiday season.

Plan A Sober New Year’s Eve Celebration

Chances are, your loved one’s friends are going to be spending New Year’s Eve out partying, clubbing, drinking, or doing drugs, as many college students do over the holiday.

If they usually spent New Year’s out partying with their friends, they might be feeling left out this year. Find ways to make the day memorable without drugs or alcoholic beverages.

A few ideas include:

  • finding a sober event nearby
  • going on a road trip over New Year’s weekend
  • creating a menu of treats and mocktails
  • having a themed party
  • setting off fireworks at midnight
  • going on a midnight hike, or hiking New Year’s Day
  • watching your favorite holiday movie
  • eating out at a decadent restaurant

Consider Co-Occurring Disorders

Research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) argues that college students’ substance use issues cannot be considered separate from mental health issues.

This is because of the high comorbidity between substance use disorders and mental illnesses, such as addiction and eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.

If your loved one has co-occurring addiction and anxiety, crowds and loud parties may be triggering for both their mental health and substance abuse issues.

New Year’s may bring fearful memories to people with addiction and PTSD. For example, a student who was sexually assaulted on New Year’s may struggle to leave the house that night.

It’s important to respect your loved one’s boundaries and needs depending on the co-occurring disorder they’re experiencing over New Year’s.

Learn more tips on navigating co-occurring disorders over the festive season.

Help Them Escape School-Related Stress

For many college students, winter break is a much-needed oasis from the stress of college courses and extracurriculars.

But your loved one may be worried about the grades they made in the previous semester, the responsibilities they’ll have in the coming semester, and some courses may send reading materials to complete before school resumes.

This stress can make your loved one in college more susceptible to relapse over the winter break, even though school hasn’t started back up yet.

Help them to use New Year’s as a time to set aside this stress and focus on the positive aspects of recovery, such as time spent with family and good friends.

Have A Self-Care Night

If your loved one in addiction recovery has been dealing with any of the above issues — stress from school, mental illness, etc. — or others, a self-care night may be much-needed.

Going to a party or New Year’s Eve celebration at a bar might be too high-risk of a situation for someone who’s a recovering alcoholic or overcoming drug abuse. An evening in for self-care can be a good alternative.

This can look like facials and clay masks, but it doesn’t have to. Self-care by definition means taking actions to improve or preserve your physical and mental health.

A college student in recovery might benefit from self-care practices such as:

  • speaking affirmations
  • journaling
  • practicing gratitude
  • practicing mindfulness
  • creating goals for their recovery
  • remembering and discussing major milestones in their recovery
  • deleting phone numbers associated with drug or alcohol use, difficult relationships, or people who do not support their recovery
  • turning their phone off for the night and participating in only screen-free activities
  • setting time limits on apps such as Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram for the evening
  • taking a night for rest and rejuvenation
  • learning self-soothing techniques to use when stress or negative emotions arise
  • eating a good, nutritious meal
  • doing something they love
  • spending time with people they love or making plans to connect with friends and family they’d like to see more

These are all ways to practice being fully aware, present, positive, and forward-thinking going into the New Year, which may have been difficult in previous years during substance use.

Spend New Year’s Eve practicing a few of the above ideas, or come up with your own self-care techniques together.

Help Them Start The New Year Right

Many people create New Year’s resolutions to stick to after the clock strikes twelve. Hopes of losing weight and picking up painting are great goals, but they’re not always planned well.

Instead of focusing on New Year’s resolutions with your loved one, help them to start 2022 off right by coming up with practical steps they can take to begin or continue their recovery.

Frame it less as a resolution and more as reliable, attainable recovery steps.

You can start by going with them to a recovery meeting on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Options for this include 12-step meetings, SMART Recovery groups, and others.

Then, think through a few small habit changes that can make a big difference when they head back to school and experience triggers and stress.

Habit changes that might benefit college students in recovery during the New Year include:

  • having a daily routine
  • finding a support group on campus
  • finding ways to stay sober in college
  • setting up a weekly meeting with a school counselor
  • enrolling in fewer credit hours to help alleviate some of the stress and pressure they feel at school
  • finding a group of people, a community, such as a sports team or club with a shared interest
  • learning holistic techniques, such as plant-assisted therapy, yoga, or meditation

Find Help For A College Student In Recovery

If your loved one is just starting their recovery journey or needs help figuring out how to get started, we’re here to help.

Call our helpline to talk about treatment options for college students, including therapy, group sessions, outpatient programs, and more intensive inpatient treatment options.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on January 13, 2022

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