A new semester of college brings new classes, new teachers and new responsibilities. And for many college students, new semesters mean new roommates, who may be longtime friends or complete strangers. While drinking and drug use may seem common on campus, a growing number of college students are committed to sobriety.
Your support can be invaluable to students in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Over the course of a semester, you may eat meals with friends, complete academic work or walk around campus between classes. These activities can be fun, and they can also strengthen your personal relationships.
Spending quality time with your friends in recovery is important for helping them maintain sobriety. Over time, you can learn more about their emotions and sources of stress. With this knowledge, you can help them avoid triggers and reduce cravings that may lead to relapse.
If you’re looking for advice on how to be a positive influence in the lives of friends recovering from addiction, consider the following five tips.
1. Be Accessible
Remaining available to your friends in recovery and interacting with them in positive way helps build and establish trust. As trust builds, they’ll be more likely to open up to you about their past problems with substance use or their struggles dealing with triggers. Having a supportive friend who is easily accessible can relieve emotional stress among individuals in recovery.
The more accessible you are, the more comfortable your friends will be when sharing their daily problems with you. Keeping your bedroom door cracked open or sending text messages throughout the day can encourage your friends to confide their feelings with you.
2. Understand Their Situation
Your friends may have completed rehab, but that does not ensure their long-term sobriety. People in recovery routinely deal with stressors. They may interact with people, places and things that trigger drug or alcohol cravings.
It is prudent to understand their situation and to avoid putting them in environments where drinking or drug use may occur. They may not be able to go to a nearby tavern for happy hour or a sports bar to watch a college basketball game. Instead, engage in sober activities with your friend. Healthy activities such as exercise can help them avoid situations that could lead to relapse.
3. Speak with Them in Privacy
When talking with a friend in recovery about personal matters, choose a location away from their dorm, apartment or house to protect their privacy. For example, a nearby restaurant or park provides a neutral location that allows for candid conversations.
You can also speak with each other about stressful situations over a cup of coffee or during a stroll through campus. When people in recovery talk to you about their problems, be sure to listen intently, express sympathy and provide encouragement. It’s also important to keep your discussions confidential.
4. Ask Questions When Necessary
Stay cognizant of any concerning habits or emotions. If a friend or roommate is constantly unhappy, seems highly stressed or does not eat well, he or she may need words of encouragement.
Talk with your friends. Let them know that you are there for them. Ask about their well-being and find out if there’s any way you could offer support. Expressing care and concern can boost their mood.
Be alert to how your friends are feeling, and express sensitivity to their moods. Remember, people in recovery from addiction commonly experience mood swings. For example, they may be happy in the morning and agitated in the afternoon.
5. Identify Mental Health Concerns
It is also important to monitor friends for signs of severe depression, evidence of self-harm or indications of suicidal thoughts. If they experience rapid weight loss, seem socially withdrawn or show other physical or psychological changes, they may need professional assistance.
You can ask friends if they are experiencing suicidal ideations. Posing this question likely will not cause someone to commit suicide. But you may also want to contact your college’s counseling and psychological services department to help assess the situation. If you live on campus, you can also share your concerns with your residence hall director or resident fellow.
College can be a stressful time for students. According to a 2012 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 72 percent of college students nationwide experienced a mental health crisis on campus. But 32 percent of students who responded did not seek help from college resource centers or staff members.
Most colleges provide free or low-cost services for mental health issues, including problems related to substance abuse and addiction.
The unfamiliarity of a new semester can induce anxiety among students. But for students in recovery, stress can be particularly problematic. Chronic stress can exacerbate mental health problems, such as depression, and result in relapse.
However, you can help your friends in recovery deal with stress in healthy ways. Spend time with them, listen to their concerns and be wary of people, places and things that can lead drug or alcohol use. Making yourself available to people in recovery can lift their spirits during stressful times.