What Is a Non-Traditional Student?
When thinking about college students, most picture recent high-school graduates. The truth is, more than 47 percent of those attending a higher education institution are older than 25. That includes those pursuing undergraduate degrees as well as those enrolled in graduate or doctoral programs. This ever-growing group of students are often labeled as “non-traditional.” There are many things to consider when deciding if you are a “traditional” or “non-traditional” student.
Example Characteristics of Non-Traditional 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 non-traditional 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 Non-Traditional Students
When it comes to the health of college students, most information is geared towards traditional and younger students. While there are similarities, non-traditional students have different health concerns and needs. Balancing classes, work and personal responsibilities can take a lasting toll on the health of non-traditional students.
The Importance of Exercise
As a non-traditional student tackling school and personal or professional obligations, it can be easy to push exercise to the back burner. The last thing you have time for is going to the gym. This can cause some major problems, though. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise and self care 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 and anxiety.
If you have children or adults you care for, scheduling an outing to a park or activity can help meet your exercise needs. You could also take a walk with a friend or join a pickup game in your community. Not only would you meet your exercise goals, you would also combat any feelings of loneliness and isolation you may feel.
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’ve been active.
Finding the 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 don’t have much time.
- 15-Minute Workouts for Busy People
- Physical Activity Guidelines- 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 are getting the nutrition you need to be successful. It’s easy to pick up something on the way to or from work because you simply don’t have time for anything else. The problem with the majority of these foods is the lack of nutritional benefit.
Fast food is often full of salt, sugar, carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. While it may taste good at the time, it is 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 are getting all the nutrients you need is through meal planning. Take the time, once a week, to lay out exactly what your meals look like 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 are needed, 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).
As a busy professional, you may not have time to cook every day. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a home cooked meal, though. 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 get home at the end of the day.
Meal plans can be especially helpful for those students who also have families they care for. 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, take a look at 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 a plethora of fresh food delivery options available in most cities. Before signing up, take the time to research your choices fully to make sure they offer options that fit your tastes.
If all else fails, find healthier options when eating out. Most places now offer low fat, grilled, and health conscious options for those who need the ease of food to go but want to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Poor nutrition can cause a plethora 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 a ton of 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
Making 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 sleep you need. A lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation, can have a lasting effect on your performance at work, home and school. Living in a hyper-connected world like we do, it can often be difficult to turn it off and disconnect from your screens.
A lack of sleep can be detrimental to keeping up with all of your responsibilities. Not only will you fall behind in your professional work, but it could cause chaos in your family life as well. A sleep deficit can affect your ability to focus, complete tasks in a timely manner, creativity, decision making, and irritability. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 7 or more hours per night for healthy adults. More than 30% of adults are not meeting those recommended levels though.
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
- Limit technology
- 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 your exposure.
- Check your room’s temperature
- The recommended bedroom temperature is between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Experiment with blankets and fans to find the most comfortable temperature for you.
- Avoid caffeine
- A study done by the Sleep Disorders & Research Center of Henry Ford Hospital concluded that caffeine, even taken 6 hours before bed, can have a disruptive effect on sleep. For your best sleep, stop using caffeine at least 6 hours before you plan to turn in for the night.
- 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 causes 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 reasons someone struggles to sleep. Even if you can’t do anything about the noise you hear, like from a street outside or neighbors, there are ways you can create a better sleep environment. Some utilize 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 a number of 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 a plethora of 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 to improve your sleep through the resources below.
- Understanding Sleep — National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- Your Guide to Healthy Sleep — National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Healthy Sleep Tips — National Sleep Foundation
Mental Health Concerns for Non-Traditional Students
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year, that equates to 1 in 5 americans Mental health can include ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Anxiety, Depression, Eating disorders, OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder), and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder).
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 not mentally ok, 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.
Ways to Overcome Isolation
- Interact with your professors
- Most online instructors offer office hours through skype, chat or email. Reach out to them when you are struggling 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 also create 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 have found yourself in a rut and need to get out of the house, take the opportunity to study in a library, book store. or coffee shop. The simple act of being around other people, even if you aren’t interacting with them, can help with any loneliness and isolation you may feel.
- Reach out to others in your degree field
- Look for people who are already working in the field you are 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 towards a club or meet up of like minded professionals.
Resources to Avoid Isolation
One struggle you face when attending school online is the potential isolation you can feel. These resources can help you deal with isolation and connect with the people online and in person.
- GoConqr Study Groups
- Find local clubs and activities — The Spruce
- Loneliness and Isolation- Reachout.com
While not classified as a mental disorder, recognizing when you are feeling stress and how to handle those feelings can help when you are faced with deteriorating mental health. 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. 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 the spiral into mental illnesses.
Symptoms of Too Much Stress
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of concentrating
- 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 non-traditional students, who 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 feel daunting. Learning how to manage your stress and home and work can be the difference in maintaining your mental health.
Tips for Managing Stress at Work
- Cultivate better relationships
- Form 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 towards a degree, they may be able to reduce your workload and offer tips on how to work smarter not harder.
- Eliminate unrealistic standards
- It’s only human to want perfection from yourself. Holding yourself to unreal 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 beating yourself up over little things does no good. Take pride in what you do and how well you do it.
- Avoid interruptions
- Some interruptions can’t be avoided, but there are ways to lessen how often they come. Communicate with your colleagues and supervisors, let them know that you need to complete a project or portion of a project and would prefer no interruptions for a set period of time.
- Time management
- One of the best ways to manage stress at work is through time management. Time management is a way of planning and controlling the amount of time you spend on activities. 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 walk away from your work. 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 your original project with a clear head.
Tips for Managing Stress When you Have a 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 everyday, 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 parent, and you’ll have more time for things once your degree is finished.
- Have a support system
- Learn to rely on your friends and family for help. Even parents not attending school need a break sometimes. Breaks become even more important when you have a project due date looming or have a bunch of reading you need to complete. Reaching out to a friend, family member or parent of your child’s friend to set up a playdate or sleep over can allow you time get everything done and give your children a chance to explore new things.
Stress and Time Management Resources
Overcoming stress and knowing how to manage your time can improve your day to day life in both your personal and professional life. These resources can help you begin down a less stressful path.
- Coping with Stress at Work — American Psychological Association
- Stress Management — HelpGuide.org
- Time Management Skills List and Examples — The Balance
- Time Management Tools — Mind Tools
- 15 Time-Management Tips — Parents.com
According to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the most common mental disorders and affects more than 300 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 of time and you find yourself losing interest in things you once enjoyed you may have a 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
- Trouble concentrating
- Change in appetite
- Changes in how much and how well you sleep
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lost interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling worthless
If left untreated, depression can cause issues in every facet of your life. It has the ability to cause problems with school, work, family, health, substance abuse, and the potential to lead to thoughts of suicide. When you are in the middle of 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 have 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.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
- 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. After 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; your 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.
- The need to have things orderly and symmetrical
- Unwanted thoughts
- Fear of contamination
- Intense stress when things aren’t a particular way
- Recurrent thoughts, images, or impulses
- Repetition of words or actions
- Depression or fear
- Lack of control of thoughts or behaviours
- Lack of pleasure from thoughts or behaviours
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment 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), previously known as ADD, is often discussed in relationship to children. Many people don’t associate ADHD with adults, but the National Institute of Mental Health estimates 4.4 percent of adults are also afflicted with it. Those with ADHD have typically had it since they were children and were never diagnosed.
Some won’t recognize their behaviour until faced with the stress and workload of going to school and having a family or career. You may see your behaviour 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 ADD and ADHD
- Lack of focus
- Time management issues
- Emotional problems
- Poor self-image
- Restlessness and anxiety
- Lack of motivation
- Substance misuse
- Relationship issues
Even though there is no cure for ADHD, treatment can lessen how much the disease impacts your life. Common treatments include medication, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural 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 factor in excelling on a personal or professional level. Eating the right things, 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 find college students struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with food. Non-traditional students face different circumstances and challenges though.
Eating disorders occur for a plethora of reasons, and there is often more than one cause or stressor that can push someone into a destructive behavior with food. When a non-traditional student is faced with the stress of courses and a professional or personal life, they may find themselves feeling out of control or overwhelmed. The pressure to meet responsibilities and maintain a societal norm of beauty, can make it easy for someone to begin dieting and watching what they eat.
Dieting and being food conscious aren’t harmful as a whole, 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. Male, female, young, old, healthy weight, unhealthy weight and anything in between. There is no “picture” of an eating disorder, it can look like anyone. This mental illness changes your opinion and behavior around food. You become obsessive over what you do and don’t eat.
Symptoms of an Eating Disorder
Recognizing an eating disorder in yourself or someone you love can be difficult. Often times those with eating disorders have learned how to hide their food issues from others. 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 contents and calories
- Chronic dieting
- Fixation on food
- Fear of eating around others
- Frequent diets
- 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. Things such as psychology, biochemistry and genetics are often out of our control, but can lead to a higher likelihood that you will be more inclined to having 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 towards. 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, manifests in some people that 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, sexual or physical abuse can all lead to PTSD.
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 of time and begin to change your life on a daily basis.
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 have every symptom below. Early treatment can lessen your symptoms and triggers before they become overwhelming.
- Self-destructive behavior
- Heightened reactions
- Guilt or 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 that 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 Non-Traditional Students
One of the benefits to non-traditional students is that they aren’t on campus, so they don’t face the same peer pressure related to alcohol. Since they are usually older than traditional students, they have experience with alcohol and they aren’t swayed by allure of it. That isn’t to say that some non-traditional 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 ends up being 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 4 drinks on any day, or 14 per week for men—and more than 3 drinks a day, or 7 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. It’s important to understand your limits and what you can handle.
Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse
- Extreme mood swings and irritability
- Inability to stop or control the amount you drink
- Losing interest in once enjoyable activities
- Continuing to drink after it has caused problems with family or friends
- Having withdrawal symptoms when you try and 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 a daunting task. 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 a disease and you are not less than because you have it. There are more than 16 million people in the United States that suffer from alcohol dependency. Most aren’t able to quit drinking on their own and will require additional help from counselors and programs designed to walk you 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 your home is a safe place. Outpatient treatment programs will require you to meet at a hospital or facility 3 to 5 days a week, 4 to 6 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 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 — Changing the Culture
- Find support groups near you — Alcoholics Anonymous
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
- Association of Recovery in Higher Education
- Signs and Symptoms — NCADD
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 non-traditional students though, they have moved past the experimentation stage. This doesn’t mean they can’t fall into a vicious drug cycle though. Instead of the illicit drugs that can be found on campus, non-traditional 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 ones are Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. When taken by those with ADD or ADHD, 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 non-traditional 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.
Side Effects of Study Drugs
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure
- Mouth dryness
- Suppressed appetite
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Impotence or changes in sex drive
Recreational Drug Use
Although not as common as their on campus counterparts, some non-traditional 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 course work 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 short cut. Some will utilize more acceptable things 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.
For those who can’t get by using traditional methods and are desperate to make it through 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. Afterwards, they need something to take the edge off so they can relax and sleep. Some are able to stop at that point. For others, it can become a cycle of using stimulants and depressants just to make it through the day.
Warning Signs of Drug Abuse
- Poor academic performance
- Drastic changes in weight
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Unidentified 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 a scary prospect.
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 currently 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. The majority of 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.
Where to Find Help
- National Helpline — Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Drug Abuse Programs — Drugabuse.com
- Public Assistance Options for Drug Treatment Centers — American Addiction 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. There are steps you can follow to ensure you stay on the right path, we’ve outlined some of them below.
Tips for Maintaining Sobriety
- 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 comradery 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 have 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 future 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 on your path to staying sober.
- Be thankful
- Take time each day to be thankful for your life and what you’ve accomplished. Start a journal and write down a few things everyday 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 fulfilled and happy.
Most importantly, understand that you are human and that mistakes can happen. Recognizing when you are struggling and who and how to reach out to those around you can be the difference between relapsing and staying in recovery.
Substance Abuse Resources
To find more information about substance abuse and where to find help, visit the resources we included below.
- Substance abuse — American College Health Association
- Resources — National Institute on Drug Abuse
- National Helpline — SAMHSA
- The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
- Project Know — Understanding Addiction
- Find the Right Support Group — The Support Group Project
- Patient Resources — American Society of Addiction Medicine