Should You Take A Gap Year in Recovery? Pro’s and Con’s of Delaying College
You might want to consider a gap year because you’ve already made one important decision to enter treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction before heading off to school. Now, just a few more decisions:
- Are you prepared for the temptations that college will bring?
- Should you head off to college immediately after rehab?
- Should you take a year off to prepare for your future?
Students across the nation, regardless of their history of substance abuse, take a year off between high school and college for many reasons. They want to take a break from academics–a gap year–to travel, sample a profession by taking a related job or internship, learn a new language in a foreign country, and for many other reasons.
Here’s a reassuring statistic for parents who are concerned that a gap year means a possible end to their son’s or daughter’s education: Research shows that 90 percent of those who take a structured year-long break from school return to school within a year. And they are likely to return a more focused student with a better sense of purpose, as well.
Interestingly, parents are often concerned about their child heading off to college and relapsing. And, research shows they have good reason to worry. Nearly half of young people in college who drink have episodes of binge drinking. Drug abuse is pervasive on campus, too. According to a study of more than 500 students, 76 percent reported using stimulants, 38.9 percent used anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives, and 40.9 percent used analgesics.
Benefits of a Gap Year in Sobriety
In the past, most of your time was probably spent feeding your addiction–that is, getting the substance, using it, feeling the effects, and then repeating the cycle. Now, in early recovery you’ve begun to learn how to replace that time with healthy hobbies and responsibilities.
Taking a gap year provides an opportunity to continue that process in a sober environment without the temptations that college presents. It also gives you time to think about why you want to go to college. In the meantime, getting a part-time job or internship not only gives positive structure to your life, it can prepare you for the responsibilities ahead. Perhaps for the first time you will be creating a routine that supports sobriety and builds your self-confidence.
Mental and Physical Wellness
Taking a gap year in sobriety means you’ll have time to get your physical and emotional health back on track. Cultivate relationships with your counselors, your doctor, and other people in recovery.
In your addiction, you probably didn’t take care of yourself physically. Make sure you schedule a checkup with your doctor and start an exercise regime, if you don’t already have one. It’s important to take care of yourself mind, body, and spirit.
You can also use this time to build a network of positive influences through classes and meetings.
Resources Are Everywhere
While many schools have college recovery programs (CRP’s), and 12-step programs are in cities and towns across the nation, taking time to get comfortable opening up in a group setting will make it easier to find your tribe in college or a new city.
If your recovery plan includes a 12-step program, it could take a year or longer to work these steps thoroughly. Cleaning up the wreckage from your past might seem secondary to your education and future, but heading off to college with a clean slate could mean the difference between relapse and progress.
Finally, you can take this time to learn your relapse triggers so you can be proactive about avoiding them. Start creating a relapse prevention action plan now.
Disadvantages of Taking a Gap Year in Sobriety
Taking a year-long time out from the structure and stresses of college has a downside, too. Here are some practical tips for overcoming the major “cons” of taking a gap year:
Beware of Procrastination Don’t wait too long to take action on your recovery program. As l you begin to feel better, life will start to look a little brighter. It’s important to enjoy life, but make sure it doesn’t affect your main goal of long-term sobriety.
Put Recovery First Use this time to build a solid foundation. Naturally, you’ll enjoy having more freedom from scheduled classes, but you’ll get even more satisfaction from your gap year as you learn to structure your time and feel increasingly confident.
Don’t get bored This is one of the biggest triggers for relapse. If a 12-step program is part of your recovery, be diligent. Work your steps and go to meetings. Get out and enjoy sober activities! Isolation leads to boredom, and boredom leads to relapse.
If your program isn’t keeping you busy enough, find healthy activities to fill your time. Get a part- time job or internship in the industry you’re considering as a career. Volunteer to help others in recovery. Be a volunteer driver to take residents to and from meetings. Find a sober hiking club or pursue and interest or hobby that’s free of temptation.
Making a Gap Year Work for You
Creating healthy habits now can tremendously increase your chances of lifelong sobriety. If you decide to take a gap year, these steps will help prepare for your next chapter.
Get the most out of this first year. Be painstaking about adhering to your program. Work with your mentor to create an action plan and stick to it. Use this time to lay the groundwork for a prosperous future.
Build structure and routine into your days. Find ways to be active in your recovery community. Plan ahead for activity so you avoid having too much down time on your hands.
Get out of your comfort zone and connect with others. Practice asking for help and meeting new people. It will make building a support group for yourself easier. (Do the same if you’re going away to college.) Having a network of people who are just a phone call away is essential when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
By Jose Hernandez