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Back to School: Will Your Recovery Impact Your Ability to Do Well in School?

There are a number of excellent schools in Nevada, and for many people who enter recovery, starting over means heading back to school and embarking on a degree that will allow them to enter the career of their dreams or otherwise increase their employability.

Going back to school can be a great plan, but in recovery, it is not without its risks. In some cases, your recovery may negatively impact your ability to do well in school and achieve the grades and opportunities you are hoping for; in other cases, school may get in the way of your ability to stay sober.

Stress

Depending on the program you choose, your comfort level with the subject matter, and the pace at which you undertake the accomplishment of your degree or certification, you may be in for a higher or lower amount of stress.

Stress for any reason can be detrimental to your recovery. It can trigger people to want to escape through drug and alcohol use, and it can trigger others to take drugs that may help them to get more done, more quickly. If there is stress related to ability to perform well, and there is difficulty mastering a specific subject matter, this can cause even more stress and issues with self-confidence and self-esteem as well – two things that can also contribute to relapse.

Finances

Addiction is expensive; the cost of drugs and alcohol compounded by lost employment can be devastating to finances. Treatment for that addiction is expensive as well; often, costs exceed what is covered by insurance if insurance coverage is even available. Add to this the cost of school, and the fact that it can be difficult to work and pay bills while attending classes and keeping up with homework, and financial stress can be severe if you jump into an expensive academic program too soon after treatment.

Peers

It may be that you enroll in school and connect with a group of likeminded peers who are focused on making positive choices for themselves and working hard on their degrees just like you are, or and it may be that you enroll in your class and end up in a group of people who pass a joint around before study group or bring a bottle of booze to the meeting. While this is true for anything you do in recovery, from your coworkers to your social acquaintances and friends, it can be particularly problematic if you are in a course of study that regularly puts you in contact with people who are under the influence.

Kids and Family

If you are involved in a serious relationship, or if you have kids at home who need your support, school can get in the way of your ability to spend quality time with your loved ones and be there for them when they need support. School has an exacting schedule and so can your continued enrollment in treatment services and complementary therapies, so if you have a family that needs you to be present and active, something may have to give.

Make It Work

  • Recovery has to come first. No matter what you do after addiction treatment, in order to stay sober, your weekly schedule needs to have a healthy dose of talk therapy, alternative therapies, and holistic treatments as well as time spent with peers in recovery. If you have to change the time of a therapy session or two to accommodate a class, that’s fine, but if you have to drop sessions in order to keep up with school, then the school program may not work.
  • Your family’s needs matter. Most people in early recovery are working hard on their relationships with people at home, and it is important that you prioritize their needs as well as the needs of your recovery. Showing up to your spouse’s work events, helping the kids with their homework, or spending time with your parents or siblings who supported you through active treatment is an important part of continued growth in sobriety.
  • Consider the cost and your financial resources. Before you pay an application fee, take the time to add up the costs to complete the program, including books and fees, and then consider what your living costs will be on top of that. If you are considering taking on a student loan to help you pay for treatment, look at what your debt load will look like after school and how quickly you can pay it off. Is it something you can feasibly take on? Also consider how you will pay your other bills, including debt repayment.
  • Have a plan to handle triggers. Cravings for relapse can occur at any time, especially if you are busy and trying to get a lot of different things done. Make sure you have an action plan – people to call, a place you can go, a 12-Step meeting schedule – that will give you a way out.
  • Check in with yourself regularly. Throughout the day, check in with yourself and assess how you are feeling physically and mentally. If there is something immediate that is causing you stress or discomfort (e.g., fatigue, hunger, etc.), address it immediately.Check in with yourself regularly. Throughout the day, check in with yourself and assess how you are feeling physically and mentally. If there is something immediate that is causing you stress or discomfort (e.g., fatigue, hunger, etc.), address it immediately.
  • Be prepared to make changes. It may be that even with the best intentions and positive support systems in place, the time is just not right to go back to school. Give yourself permission to make changes as needed with an eye toward maintaining your sobriety no matter what.
  • Are you headed back to school in early recovery? What are you doing to make sure that you have what you need to succeed?