Most people think of college students as recent high school graduates. The truth is, more than 47% of those who attend an institution of higher learning are over the age of 25. This includes those pursuing certificates or undergraduate degrees as well as those enrolled in graduate or doctoral programs. This ever-growing group of students is often labeled as “nontraditional.”
Example characteristics of nontraditional students:
- Working full time (35 hours or more per week)
- Financially independent
- Attending part time
- Married with children
- Single parent
- Having a GED and not a high school diploma
- Delayed enrollment
- Distance/online learner
A growing subset of nontraditional students are adults who decide to either change careers or enhance their existing careers by attaining a new degree. These students often have full-time jobs (and maybe even families), and they look for schools and degree programs offering a level of flexibility that allows them to meet their personal and financial responsibilities.
General health tips for nontraditional students
When it comes to the health of college students, most information is geared toward traditional and younger students. While there are similarities, nontraditional students have different health concerns and needs. Balancing classes, work, and personal responsibilities can take a lasting toll on the health of nontraditional students.
The importance of exercise
As a nontraditional student tackling school and personal or professional obligations, it can be easy to overlook the importance of physical activity. The last thing you have time for is going to the gym or working out around the house. This can cause some major problems, though. Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle through exercise can enhance your ability to learn and remain fit at the same time.
The current CDC health guidelines for adults is 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. While that may seem excessive, it evens out to roughly 21 minutes a day. Taking 20 to 30 minutes a day to walk or run around the block or doing yoga can be enough to release endorphins, which help fight depression and mitigate stress or anxiety.
If you have children or adults you care for, visiting a park or other outdoor activities can help meet your exercise needs. You could also take a walk with a friend or join a sports league in your community. Not only could this help you meet your exercise goals, but also it could help ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation.
When you take the time to create a regular exercise routine it can also help improve your time management skills and provide some additional structure to your days. Utilizing a fitness tracker or phone app can help. Some, like Fitbit, send reminders when you have been sedentary for too long. Those small alerts can break up your days and make it easier to remember how long it’s been since you were last active.
Finding time to exercise on top of your busy schedule can be difficult. The resources below will help you find the best way to reach the right activity level for you when you have limited time.
- 15-Minute Workouts for Busy People
- Physical Activity Guidelines from Health.gov
- A 20-Minute Daily Exercise Plan for People Too Busy to Work Out
- Fitness Tracker Buying Guide
- 10 Tips For Fitting Yoga Into A Busy Schedule
Balanced nutrition advice
Once you find the level of exercise that works best for you, the next step is making sure you’re getting the nutrition you need to be successful. It’s easy to pick up something on the way to or from work or when you’re out running errands because you simply don’t have time for anything else. The problem with many of these foods is nutritional benefit.
Fast food is often full of salt, sugar, carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats. While it may taste good, it’s anything but good for your body. From blood sugar spikes to heart disease and high blood pressure, fast food can have a lasting effect on your body long after your meal.
An easy way to ensure you get all the nutrients you need is through meal planning. Take time each week to lay out your meals for the coming week. Decide what breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinners you’ll have, and write down everything you will need for those meals.
Visiting the grocery store once a week with a clear list of what ingredients you need can also help cut your grocery costs. Don’t have to time to make a trip to a grocery store? Take advantage of grocery delivery companies or curbside pickup (offered by many stores). Once you arrive home, it’s always a good idea to rinse your fruits and vegetables to eliminate any lingering pesticides, insects, or other harmful materials.
As a busy professional, you may not have time to cook every day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a home-cooked meal. After you plan out your meals, take the time to prep for them. There are loads of meals (and components of meals) that can be made ahead and then cooked (or reheated) throughout the week. You can also utilize a crock pot, which will have dinner ready by the time you finish your day.
Meal plans can be especially helpful for those students who also care for families. Spending time with your loved ones to create meals that are easy and delicious is a great way to stay engaged in life outside of work and school.
If making meal plans isn’t an option for you, consider companies like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. They deliver recipes and ingredients right to your door, and all you have to do is follow the instructions. There are also many other fresh food delivery options available in most cities. Before signing up, take the time to research your choices fully to make sure they provide options that fit your tastes.
If all else fails, find healthier options when eating out. Most places now offer low-fat, grilled, and more nutritious options for those who want to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Poor nutrition can cause a number of issues and leave you feeling sluggish both mentally and physically. There are ways to ensure you get exactly what you need from the food you eat without spending too much time cooking and planning. The resources below can help you find the right plan for you.
- Healthiest Fast-Food Orders
- Food Shopping and Meal Planning
- The Student’s Guide to Nutrition
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Make time for sleep
Along with exercise and nutrition, it’s important to ensure you get enough sleep. With a never-ending list of things to complete, it can be almost impossible to get the rest you need. Sleep deprivation can have a lasting effect on your health, as well as your performance at work, home, and school. Living in a technological and hyper-connected world like we do, it can often be difficult to disconnect from your screens.
A lack of sleep can prevent you from keeping up with important responsibilities. Not only can losing sleep cause you to fall behind in your professional work, but it can also disrupt your personal or family life. A sleep deficit can affect your ability to focus, impacting your creativity and decision-making abilities. This can ultimately cause irritability that impacts your ability to complete tasks in a timely manner. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting seven or more hours of sleep per night for healthy adults. However, more than 30% of adults are not meeting those recommended levels.
Signs of sleep deprivation
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of motivation
- Impulse control issues
For some people, there just isn’t enough time in the day. If you have an overloaded schedule, it can be difficult to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. There are steps you can take to improve the quality of sleep even if you’re not able to increase how many hours you can sleep.
Tips for better sleep
It’s well known that the blue light exposure from technology can disrupt your ability to sleep and even trigger sleeplessness. Combat this by limiting your screen time an hour or two before bed. There are also blue light-filtering apps and software you can download to reduce the impact on your sleep schedule.
Check your room’s temperature
The recommended bedroom temperature for optimal sleep is between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Experiment with blankets and fans to find the most comfortable temperature for you.
A study by the Sleep Disorders & Research Center of Henry Ford Hospital concluded that caffeine, even taken six hours before bed, can have a disruptive effect on sleep.
Darken your room
Your brain is hardwired to want sleep when the sun goes down. Artificial and natural light can disrupt this pattern and cause an inability to sleep. Use blackout curtains on the windows and cover or remove anything that produces artificial light. Even something as simple as the light from a charger can impact your ability to sleep.
Remove the noise
Noise can be one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation. Even if you can’t do anything about the noise you hear, like from a street outside, there are ways you can create a better sleep environment. Try utilizing a sound machine or fan to drown out the other noises while still allowing you to hear your alarm clock.
Make your bed comfortable
It’s recommended to replace your mattress every 10 years. There are also several ways you can add comfort to your existing mattress. By adding a memory foam mattress topper, you can add a layer of support and softness without replacing your entire mattress. There are many other options available, and it’s important to make sure you select the ones that help you sleep best.
Sleep is one of the most important ways to improve your health. Going through life with less sleep than you need can be disastrous to your physical and mental health. Find more information on how to improve your sleep through the resources below.
Mental health concerns for nontraditional students
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness each year. Mental health conditions can include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Completing a degree while working or taking care of loved ones can cause large amounts of stress, which can lead to some of the disorders listed above. Learning how to recognize when you are mentally compromised and taking the time to learn coping mechanisms can help tremendously.
Feeling isolated from other students
One of the benefits of online learning is the flexibility it allows. However, it may also cause a feeling of isolation from other students and your professors. Learning how to connect with professors and your peers in a virtual setting can help combat those feelings.
Here are a few ways to help avoid feeling like you’re isolated:
Interact with your professors
Most online instructors provide office hours through videoconferencing, chat, or email. Reach out to them when you are having difficulty with projects or assignments to make sure you understand what’s expected. They can also connect you with other online students who may be able to provide tips or advice.
Maintain personal connections
With career and personal obligations, pursuing a degree can limit the extra time you have. It’s important to continue engaging with your friends and family. Taking a moment to get away from your responsibilities, even if it is 30 minutes for a meal, can help with the isolation you may feel.
Organize a study group
Even though you aren’t on campus, you can connect with your peers through a virtual study group. Creating a group chat with scheduled times once or twice a week can offer additional resources for assignments and creates a connection with your fellow students.
Change your location
One of the great things about online courses is the flexibility it allows for studying. If you find yourself in a rut and need to get out of the house, take advantage of the opportunity to relocate to an outdoor patio or nearby park. Just being outdoors and away from home confinement can do wonders for your emotional well-being.
Reach out to others in your degree field
Look for people who are already working in the field you’re studying. Connecting with a person or company, either online or face-to-face, could offer an invaluable learning opportunity. They may be able to offer advice and point you toward a group or club (whether local or online) where you can meet up with like-minded professionals.
Resources to help avoid feelings of isolation
The following resources can help you deal with isolation and connect with people online and in person.
Recognizing when you are feeling stress and how to handle those feelings can help when you are faced with a mental health scenario. At some point in life, everyone experiences stress of some kind.
Stress is how your body responds to any kind of threat or demand, whether that be physical or mental, real or imagined. But stress isn’t always a negative reaction. On some occasions, stress can spur adrenaline, which activates the human “fight or flight” response.
When you are in physical danger your body responds with a sense of “fight or flight.” Essentially, it’s your body’s way of protecting itself and can be helpful or harmful. Knowing when stress has moved from being helpful to damaging can make it easier to cope and help avoid further complications associated with mental illness.
Here are some symptoms you might experience if you are overly stressed:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of concentration
- Feeling nervous or anxious
- Feeling burned out from studying or professional work
- Trouble functioning
- Trouble sleeping
- Change in eating habits
- Memory problems
- Feeling irritable, angry, or easily frustrated
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Attending college can be stressful for anyone, but nontraditional students, who may also work or have a family to care for, can easily become overwhelmed by the amount of stress they feel. When you work and attend school, trying to get everything done can be daunting. Learning how to manage your stress at home and work can make a huge difference in maintaining your mental health.
Here are some ways you can help manage your mental health:
Cultivate better relationships
Actively work towards forming positive relationships with your supervisor and coworkers. Having a support network at work can help you manage your responsibilities and expectations. Share with others that you are working toward a degree. They may be able to reduce your workload and offer tips on how to work smarter and not harder.
Eliminate unrealistic standards
It’s only human to want perfection from yourself. But holding yourself to unrealistic expectations can cause a lack of self-worth when you end up doing something that is less than perfect. Remember that no one is perfect, and being critical of yourself over little things isn’t productive. Take pride in what you do and how well you do it.
Some interruptions can’t be avoided, but there are ways to lessen how often they come. Communicate with your colleagues and manager that you need to complete a project or portion of a project and would prefer minimal interruptions for a set period. If you are working virtually, consider logging out of chat applications when you need dedicated concentration on a project.
Time management is a way of planning and controlling the amount of time you spend on activities and is one of the best ways to manage stress at work. These skills allow you to set your priorities, create a to-do list, and boost your productivity.
Know when to take a break
Recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed and take an opportunity to remove yourself from your work environment. Take a short break and walk around the building or sit on a bench outside. Simply walking away from your immediate stressor for a few moments can clear your mind and alleviate some of that feeling of being overwhelmed.
If you can’t remove yourself from the stress by walking away, move that project to the back burner for 30 minutes while you work on something less stressful. Engaging your mind in a different task can break the cycle and allow you to return to your original project with a clear head.
If you have a family, that can affect your stress level as well. Here are some was to navigate stress while maintaining healthy relationships with your family.
Create a schedule
Having a set schedule of what your family needs to accomplish every week can help alleviate the feeling of not being in control. Knowing what days your children have extracurricular activities, or when your project needs to be done, can eliminate “surprise” deadlines and last-minute plans.
Utilize a calendar
Once you have your schedule created, use a calendar to keep track of everything. Adding in due dates for assignments or projects can help you plan when you will be able to complete them and can help you move things around to create free time.
Manage your time wisely
When you have younger children who don’t attend school yet, it can be difficult to find the time and energy to study for class. Learning to use your time wisely can create opportunities you might not have seen otherwise. When your small children go down for a nap, use that time for studying or completing assignments.
With school-aged children, you can create a set schedule for homework every day, where everyone works on school assignments for an hour or two. This is not only beneficial for you, but will also show your children how important it is to devote time to homework.
If your kids have extracurricular activities like sports or music that require your attendance, use this time to your benefit. Take time during practice, rehearsals, or games when they aren’t playing to get some additional work done.
Learn to say “no”
As a parent, you’ve probably had to use the word “no” a few times with your children. As a student and a parent, it becomes even more important. Knowing when to say “no” or pass on outside opportunities is imperative to keeping your stress level down. It’s OK to decline chaperoning a school field trip or volunteering to do something for your friends. Remember that saying “no” doesn’t make you a bad person, and you’ll have more time for things once your degree is finished.
Grow your support system
Learn to rely on your friends and family for help. Even parents who aren’t attending school need a break sometimes. Breaks become even more important when you have a project due date looming or a bunch of reading you need to complete. Getting in the necessary “me time” is important because it provides a mental reset so you can continue your responsibilities with greater focus and confidence.
Stress and time management resources
Overcoming stress and knowing how to manage your time can improve both your personal and professional life. These resources can help you begin down a less stressful path.
- Coping with Stress at Work
- Stress Management
- Time Management Skills List and Examples
- Time Management Tools
- 15 Time-Management Tips
According to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the most common mental disorders and affects more than 264 million people worldwide. Everyone has feelings of sadness or grief at one point in their lives. These feelings typically go away within a few days. When they last for an extended period and you find yourself losing interest in things you once enjoyed, you may be experiencing major depression.
It’s important to understand that you can be depressed and not have feelings of sadness. Like many things, depression isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. It can present differently in each person, and you may only have a few of the symptoms listed below.
Warning signs of depression
- Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
- Feeling tired or having little energy
- Having trouble concentrating
- Experiencing a change in appetite
- Experiencing changes in how much and how well you sleep
- Having suicidal thoughts
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling worthless
- Having feelings of isolation
If left untreated, depression can cause issues in every facet of your life. It can cause problems with school, work, family, and health, as well as lead to substance abuse or potential thoughts of suicide. When you are experiencing depression, things often feel hopeless and helpless. The truth is, even the most severe cases of depression can usually be treated.
You can often find help for depression through your doctor or university’s mental health services department. Many colleges offer mental health services that don’t require you to be on campus. Reach out to the student life organization or counseling department to find who can help you when you need it most.
If you don’t feel comfortable going to your doctor or university, online options are becoming more prevalent. There are websites and phone apps you can use to discuss your mental health with peers and counselors who are able to help.
At some point, you’ve probably felt anxiety in one form or another. Feeling anxious over a looming deadline or uncertainty is completely normal. When worry and fear stop being manageable and begin impacting other areas of your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
There are many types of anxiety, and it affects every person differently. Here are some signs and symptoms:
- Digestive issues
- Inability to control your worries
- Irrational fears
- Trouble concentrating
- Feelings of dread
- Feelings of worry that don’t go away
It’s important to visit your doctor or therapist if you notice any of these symptoms for an extended period. There are many physical diseases and issues that have symptoms similar to anxiety. After reviewing your symptoms, medical tests and concerns, your doctor will be able to point you in the right direction.
Anxiety disorders can be debilitating, often with lasting effects if left untreated. If you receive a diagnosis of anxiety, it’s important to understand the treatment options available to you. Treatment often consists of medication and psychotherapy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to overcoming anxiety; every situation is unique.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a form of anxiety disorder that is characterized as having unwanted, persistent ideas or thoughts and that produce the desire to do something repetitively. This could manifest as obsessive hand washing, cleaning, or repeating activities such as closing a door a certain number of times before walking away.
Many people have obsessive behaviors that are relatively harmless. For those with OCD, failing to do these tasks, or not doing them a certain way, can cause great mental distress.
Do I have OCD?
Recognizing OCD can be difficult if you’ve been living with it for a while. It’s easy to think your behavior is normal and nothing to worry about. The truth is understanding your symptoms and realizing you need help can improve your life exponentially.
Here are some signs and symptoms of OCD:
- The need to have things orderly and symmetrical
- Unwanted thoughts
- Fear of contamination
- Intense stress when things aren’t going a particular way
- Recurring thoughts, images, or impulses
- Repetition of words or actions
- Depression or fear
- Lack of control of thoughts or behaviors
- Lack of pleasure from thoughts or behaviors
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for OCD. CBT is an in-depth therapy technique that doctors utilize to help a patient recognize and find ways to overcome the obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions they face. Some people will find that medication combined with CBT gives them more control and lessens the effects of OCD on their life.
It’s important when you are working through recovery that you have a support network. This could be your family and friends or a support group in your community. Finding the right support group for you can be difficult, but discussing the need with your therapist or searching reputable websites can help you find the most beneficial one for you.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), previously known as ADD, is often discussed in relation to children. Many people don’t associate ADHD with adults, but the National Institute of Mental Health estimates 4.4% of adults are also live with ADHD. Those with ADHD have typically had it since they were children and were never diagnosed.
Some won’t recognize their behavior until faced with the stress and workload of going to school and having a family or career. You may see your behavior as normal and think nothing of it until a coworker or peer points it out to you. This could lead you to search for answers on why you may be different from others.
Symptoms of ADHD include:
- Lack of focus
- Time management issues
- Emotional issues
- Lack of impulse control
- Negative self-image
- Restlessness and anxiety
- Lack of motivation
- Substance abuse
- Relationship issues
Even though there is no cure for ADHD, treatment can lessen how much the disorder impacts your life. Common treatments include medication, psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. A combination of these treatments can allow someone with ADHD to lessen their day-to-day challenges and find ways to overcome those that remain.
Nutrition is an important contributor to personal and professional achievement. Eating the right foods, in the right amounts, can strengthen your body and mind. Eating disorders often began as a preoccupation with food or weight and spiral into a debilitating disease with lasting effects on your physical and mental health.
With new environments and social changes, eating disorders are prevalent in traditional college students. The desire to be accepted by peers and fit in with societal norms for beauty places many college students at odds with maintaining a healthy relationship with food. However, nontraditional students face different circumstances and challenges.
Eating disorders occur for a multitude of reasons, and there is often more than one cause or stressor that can push someone into an unhealthy relationship with food. When a nontraditional student is faced with the stress of courses and a professional or personal life, they may find themselves feeling overwhelmed.
Dieting and food consciousness aren’t harmful, as long as they are approached in a healthy way. When someone begins focusing on food in an unhealthy way or taking diet aids, they have a problem.
Eating disorders can affect everyone. There is no set picture of what someone with an eating disorder looks like. This mental illness changes your opinion and behavior around food. You become obsessive over what you do or don’t eat.
Symptoms of an eating disorder
Recognizing an eating disorder in yourself or someone you love can be difficult. Often those with eating disorders have learned how to hide their food issues from others, and the reasons are varied. For some, it can be to maintain an unfair standard of beauty. For others, it can stem from comfort or familiarity, which can cause overeating. Psychology or depression can also be major contributors.
Knowing what symptoms and behaviors to watch for can help you confront the disease.
- Constant weight changes
- Depression or lethargy
- Switching between overeating and fasting
- Isolation or withdrawal from family and friends
- Obsession with fat content and calorie levels
- Chronic dieting
- Fixation on food
- Fear of eating around others
- Chronic of frequent dieting
- Extreme mood swings
Science hasn’t been able to determine exactly what causes eating disorders, but some things can make you more prone to them. Factors such as psychology, biochemistry and genetics are often out of our control, but can lead to a higher likelihood that you will develop an eating disorder.
Treatment for eating disorders involves therapy and counseling, with a focus on nutritional and medical needs, through either in-patient or outpatient care depending on the severity of the disease. Learning how to identify what led to an eating disorder and how to better cope with those feelings in the future is an important aspect of recovery.
One of the most important things to remember while recovering is to practice self-love. Accept yourself, listen to your feelings, listen to your body and love yourself. The more honest you can be about your situation and how you feel, the more your medical team can help you move forward. Be open with your friends and family about your struggles and what you are working toward. Having a group of people to turn to when things get difficult in the future can be the difference between staying healthy and relapsing.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) manifests in some people who have experienced a life-threatening or traumatic event. Most equate PTSD with those in the armed forces; however, anyone is susceptible to it. Events such as terror attacks, disasters, car accidents, violent crime, and domestic violence can all lead to PTSD.
Victims of rape or sexual assault represent a disproportionate number of the cases involving PTSD. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), one out of six women in the United States will be the victim of a completed or attempted sexual assault within her lifetime. For many victims, the trauma experienced is often relived years or decades after the fact, causing depression, feelings of alienation, loneliness, and mistrust.
It is normal to experience feelings of emotional numbness, avoidance, flashbacks, or nightmares after a traumatic event. PTSD occurs when these feelings continue for an extended period and begin to change your life daily.
Warning signs of PTSD
Knowing what to look for and recognizing the warning signs of PTSD will allow you to seek help when symptoms first begin. Each person experiences PTSD differently. You may not experience every symptom below. Early treatment can lessen your symptoms and triggers before they become overwhelming.
- Self-destructive behavior
- Heightened reactions
- Feelings of loneliness
- Emotional detachment
- Insomnia or nightmares
Admitting you have PTSD can feel like you have failed or are “weak” in some way. People with PTSD have no control over what they feel and how it affects them. Treating it often revolves around learning how to cope with the original event and how to remember those events without reliving them.
Discussing how you feel with your family or friends can be a good place to start. They have probably already seen a change in how you behave. If you don’t have a group of people you can turn to, reach out to your doctor or find a mental health provider who specializes in PTSD. Support groups can also be beneficial in helping you work through what you feel and how it is affecting you.
Mental health resources
The resources below will help you find more information about mental health and where to turn when you need help coping in your day-to-day life.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Center for PTSD
- National Eating Disorders Association
- Attention Deficit Disorder Association
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- The Anxiety Network
- International OCD Foundation
- Find a Support Group — Psychology Today
Substance abuse among nontraditional students
Because many nontraditional students are older and take online classes, they can focus more on their education without being susceptible to alcohol-related peer pressure. Since they are usually older than traditional students, they have experience with alcohol and aren’t swayed by the allure of it. That isn’t to say that some nontraditional students won’t face issues with alcohol. They are still susceptible to overuse and may face the temptation to drink at inappropriate times.
Instead of going to a party where alcohol is present, most of these students are old enough to purchase it themselves. It can start with simply having a drink after a long day to unwind. The problem begins when it turns into much more than that.
How much is too much?
There is some debate on how much alcohol is too much. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines it as more than four drinks on any day or 14 per week for men and more than three drinks a day or seven per week for women.
Not everyone who exceeds these numbers has an alcohol use problem, and you could still have a problem even if you don’t consume that much. Understanding the root cause of alcohol addiction is important to understand your limits and how much you can handle.
Warning signs of alcohol abuse
- Extreme mood swings and irritability
- Inability to stop or control the amount you drink
- A lack of interest in once-enjoyable activities
- Continuing to drink after it has caused problems with family or friends
- Having withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop, like trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea or sweating
- Craving alcohol
- Hiding how much you drink from loved ones
- Personal, professional or academic responsibilities no longer being met
Asking for help
Recognizing you have a problem, and knowing when to ask for help, can be the largest struggle you face. Taking that first step to reach out to someone you trust, whether that be a friend, family member, or doctor can be daunting. It’s important to remember that asking for help and understanding you can’t do this alone isn’t a sign of weakness.
Alcohol Use Disorder or dependency is more common than most believe it is. There are more than 16 million people in the United States who suffer from alcohol dependency. Most can’t quit drinking on their own and will require additional help from counselors and programs designed to walk them through each step of the process.
Recovery and treatment
Recovering from alcohol-related problems isn’t as easy as simply not drinking. Every person will face different challenges and struggles on the road to sobriety. Most recoveries will begin with withdrawal and detox. After you’ve made it through the first stage, you’ll need to decide how to move forward.
Recovery times vary depending on your individual needs. Some recoveries involve a residential treatment facility where you live on-site for 30 to 90 days while detoxing and attending daily counseling and group therapy. Others will be able to complete an outpatient treatment program while still living at home, as long as their home is a safe place. Outpatient treatment programs will require you to meet at a hospital or facility three to five days a week, four to six hours a day.
Life after recovery
After you’ve completed a treatment program, you’ll need to decide how to move forward with your life. Most doctors and therapists will recommend an intensive outpatient program that focuses on remaining sober. They will, most likely, also suggest therapy. Therapy can be individual, group, or family and will help you recognize why you use alcohol and learn how to handle your stressors in more positive ways in the future.
Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are one of the best ways to aid your own recovery. These 12-step programs can offer additional support and allow a safe outlet for you to be open about your addiction and share with others who are recovering about the struggles you face.
Resources to help with alcohol dependency and recovery
The resources below will help you find additional information on alcohol dependency and how to find a sober path in life.
- College Drinking
- Find support groups near you
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Association of Recovery in Higher Education
- Signs and Symptoms
Along with alcohol, drugs can run rampant on a college campus. With many students getting their first taste of the real world, they often experiment with drugs in one way or another. When it comes to nontraditional students, though, they have often moved past the experimentation stage. This doesn’t mean they can’t fall into a vicious drug cycle. Instead of the illicit drugs that can be found on campus, nontraditional students are more likely to turn to “study drugs” to help them cope with the pressure of classes and everyday life.
The term “study drugs” is used to describe a group of prescription drug stimulants typically prescribed to treat those with ADHD or ADD but taken by those without a prescription. The most commonly abused medications are Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. When taken by those with ADHD or ADD, these drugs work as a depressive. For those without a medical need, they act as a stimulant.
With the struggles and stress of life for nontraditional students, some will turn to study drugs to help them focus, and it helps them feel as though they can complete everything they need to while still maintaining a personal or professional life. However, taking these non-prescribed drugs can have serious side effects like:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Suppressed appetite
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Impotence or changes in sex drive
Recreational drug use
Although not as common as it is with their on-campus counterparts, some nontraditional students do engage in the use of recreational drugs. Traditionally the most common of these drugs are marijuana, heroin, prescription painkillers, cocaine, LSD, and MDMA. However, use of methamphetamine — also called meth — has become a growing concern recently.
Why are some online college students turning to drug use?
The stress and pressure to complete coursework and maintain your professional or personal life can often lead to feelings of being overwhelmed. Students looking for ways to get everything done or relax at the end of the day can easily be swayed to try what they feel is a shortcut. Some will utilize more alternative methods to make it through the day, such as coffee or energy drinks. Others need help relaxing at the end of the day and use sleeping aids like melatonin or over-the-counter drugs to get there.
Those who can’t get by using traditional methods and who are desperate to make it through sometimes turn to prescription or recreational drugs. They often feel they will be able to take a couple here or there to finish studying for a test or complete a project. Afterward, they need something to take the edge off so they can relax and sleep. Some people can stop at that point. For others, it can become a cycle of using stimulants and depressants just to make it through the day.
Here’s a list of warning signs of drug abuse to watch out for:
- Changes in personality
- Poor academic performance
- Drastic changes in weight and appearance
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Unmarked pill bottles
- Trouble with the law
- Traffic accidents
- Violent outbursts
- High-risk sexual behavior
- Skipping classes
- Excessive sleepiness
- Decreased focus
- Lack of motivation
If you have noticed the warning signs above, or your family and friends have mentioned a change in your behavior, it may be time to evaluate if what you are taking is helping or hurting you in the long run.
Confiding in your loved ones about drug use can be scary. Some feel as though they will appear weak or are embarrassed about needing help. The truth is it takes great strength and courage to admit you have a problem and seek help.
Once you have admitted you have a problem, it’s important to find the right kind of help. If you have a primary care doctor, you can reach out to them and set up an appointment to discuss how to overcome your addiction. If you don’t have a doctor and are not sure where to find one, there are services available to point you in the right direction.
Another concern you may have is how much it will cost. Most insurance companies include substance abuse treatment in their plans. Even if you are uninsured or underinsured, there are state-funded programs available that can help you during your recovery.
Here are just a few resources that can help you on your road to recovery:
- National Helpline for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Drug Abuse Programs
- Public Assistance Options for Drug Treatment Centers
After successfully completing a drug rehab program, it’s important to understand that you can’t just return to your life the way it was. Identifying the stressors that pushed you to drugs and learning how to handle them with positive outlets is the first place to start. We’ve outlined a few steps that you can follow to ensure you stay on the right path:
Find a support network
Narcotics Anonymous and similar support groups can help you learn more about addiction and how to handle your new path. They create a camaraderie and sense of accountability for those in recovery. Most feel these groups are crucial to staying away from drugs. It’s important to find a group where you feel comfortable. Staying in touch with friends and family who know what you’ve been through adds even more support when you need it most.
Set goals for the future
When moving forward from addiction, it’s important to set goals for your future. Goals will help you focus on the big picture instead of short-term struggles you may be feeling. Having something to work for and knowing why you want to stay sober will help overcome any temporary feelings you may have.
Find a sponsor
After find a support network, your next step should be finding a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who has been in recovery for a while and can offer support and assistance when you need it most. Having someone who has been in your shoes and knows how to handle the ups and downs of every day will help you on your path to staying sober.
Recognize your accomplishments
Take time each day to be thankful for your life and what you’ve accomplished. Start a journal and write down a few things every day that you are thankful for. They don’t have to be large things; something as simple as being thankful for finishing an assignment that day can be enough to make you feel happy and fulfilled.
Most importantly, understand that you’re human and that mistakes can happen. Recognizing when you’re struggling and how to reach out to those around you can be the difference between relapsing and staying in recovery.
Substance abuse resources
You can find information about substance abuse and where to find help through the resources below.