Facing the pressures of a drinking culture

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10 tips for keeping faith and sobriety alive in college.

Written by Kristina Robb-Dover

“Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways,” the Psalmist prays (Psalm 25:7). I’d like to think his plea serves as a good blanket prayer for the dumb things many of us did in college. Even the saintliest among us can probably name at least one stupid or embarrassing thing they did as a co-ed, after all. (If they can’t, they’re either lying or not from Planet Earth.)

But a family history of addiction quickly raises the stakes when indulging in certain college stupidities.

Take the most obvious example of drinking. In an environment that’s notorious for partying and underage boozing, the peer pressures to drink and get drunk can be enormous. As many as four out of five college students drink, according to research in the Journal of Substance Abuse. Those in the minority therefore face the added temptation that just about everyone else is drinking.

Such realities of campus life can pose dangers to the physical and spiritual health of any student, especially those with a family history of addiction, whether or not they have had a prior experience with alcohol. That makes navigating peer pressures to drink a very real concern. Thankfully, Scripture and the latest addiction science offer some insights. These 10 tips for keeping faith and sobriety alive in college are a start:

  1. Get grounded each day with a time of daily devotion. Scripture paints a picture of flourishing and abundant spiritual life for those who stay regularly grounded in the Word of God. They are like “trees planted by streams of living water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither … in all that they do they prosper (Psalm 1:3).” When you’re drawing near to God each day and learning daily dependence on the “daily bread” only Jesus can offer, the tug and pull of alcohol will fade in intensity. In their place there will emerge something of far greater worth: a life-giving relationship with the God who created you and loves you intimately.
  2. “Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). The writer Anne Lamott offers a simpler translation, in the form of “Help. Thanks. Wow.” Whether it’s cramming for a final exam, sitting down to a meal, or fending off a rowdy drink pusher, college life offers frequent opportunities to connect with God. The more you can insert prayers of “Help,” “Thanks,” or “Wow” into the daily experiences and activities that make up your life, the more you’ll be able to experience Jesus’ provision for you in very concrete ways—and you’ll be putting both your faith and sobriety into action.
  3. Consider joining a 12-step group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Celebrate Recovery (CR). The “12 Steps” are a spiritual program for recovery that has helped millions of people deepen their connection with God and achieve long-term abstinence. You don’t have to have a diagnosed drug or alcohol addiction to benefit from working the steps. For example, if you have no history of addiction but are spending what seems like an inordinate amount of time obsessing about drinking, you also may find it useful to work the 12 Steps with a group of supportive peers.
  4. Practice abstinence from alcohol as a spiritual discipline. Throughout centuries of church tradition, Christians have drawn on various spiritual practices to grow in their relationship with God. One such discipline is the practice of abstinence or fasting. For example, during the season of Lent that precedes Easter on the church calendar, it is not uncommon for Christians to give up sweets or alcohol. Countless saints throughout history have given up much more. Viewed from this perspective, offers of alcohol can be positive opportunities for spiritual growth rather than tense or dreaded moments.
  5. Focus on building close relationships with peers who will encourage you in your faith and sobriety. The latest science has revealed that addiction is a disease of alienation and isolation. In contrast, recovery (and sobriety) depends on meaningful human connections. The relationships you form during the next four years will be arguably the most important investment you make in this season of life. Invest your time wisely in at least a few close friendships that you’ll be able to rely on after you graduate. Your best friendships will be with peers you can be real with when the beer isn’t on tap.
  6. Seek out mentors. Someone you look up to, who is older, wiser and further along in their faith and/or their sobriety, can be a good source of advice and perspective in relation to the dramas of college life, both big and small. If you’re involved in a Christian Bible study, be intentional about getting to know the leader(s). Alternatively, if you’re in a 12-step group, find a “sponsor.”
  7. Have a plan in place for drink pushers at parties and other social venues where alcohol is readily on hand. There will be times when the presence of alcohol is unavoidable. Be prepared ahead of time for how to respond to drink offers. That may mean bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage to the party or memorizing a short, simple script for saying “no thanks.”
  8. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Don’t underestimate the importance of plenty of sleep, a nutritious diet, and regular intervals of exercise. These components of a healthy lifestyle can stave off common triggers and temptations to drink.
  9. Be quick to ask for help after a slip-up. If you break your resolution to avoid alcohol, be quick to forgive yourself and get right back into the swing of a healthy daily discipline.
  10. Take deep breaths regularly. The next time you hear yourself breathe in and breathe out, let it be an occasion to tell yourself, “God is with me.” If there’s one thing your faith and sobriety need, it is this reassurance that in Jesus, God says, “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20). And God is as close as your breath.

Kristina Robb-Dover is a full-time writer for Beach House Center for Recovery, and her latest book is The Recovery-Minded Church: Loving and Ministering to People with Addiction (InterVarsity Press, January 2016). 

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