Living in Sobriety

Written by DEI in colloboration with Marium Waqar, Masters Student in Higher Education

Sobriety. Struggle-Rising-Living. The journey of an individual living sober is summed up by those three connected words. Struggle is the beginning but eventually, you rise and live the life you always imagined. In the world we live in today, there is a lot of stigmas associated with the term addict. Students in recovery are afraid to attend college because of the stigma they fear they will face – the faces that will turn when they introduce themselves on the first day of class, or the thoughts that will circle through heads when the discussion of substance withdrawal occurs. Students in recovery struggle with identity development in college because they do not live the “typical” college party lifestyle. Choosing the lifestyle of sobriety gives them a second chance at life and the ability to create a new identity that is also positive.

Sobriety as a dictionary definition refers to abstaining from drugs and alcohol. It refers to individuals who in the past have had a substance addiction and are now living a new lifestyle. However, there is much more to the definition than just those words. Living sober is more than just refraining from substances. It’s also about how you live your life and the choices you make that shape you as a person. If you are refraining from drugs and alcohol but not practicing kindness and love, then it does not count as “living sober” because “internally” one is not clean. It is a combination of a physical and spiritual process.

As students, faculty, staff, and community members, we need to understand the real identity of community members in recovery and not discriminate against someone because of their past. Individuals in recovery struggle a good amount to develop that new positive identity and we need to educate ourselves more on what sobriety and recovery consist of, and provide a community of support and compassion. Often, we discuss a lot of DEI issues, and a lot of concerns get brought to light, however, providing support to students in recovery is an opportunity where there needs to be more inclusion. Students in recovery should not feel like they need to hide the stigma associated with their past. Instead, it should be a story they will tell and the fuel to the fire they need to build a new, positive identity.


Sobriety –  is used to describe the state of not drinking, for a short period of time or as part of someone’s lifestyle

Recovery – typically means someone is in the process of addressing the root causes that underlie alcohol or drug addiction

Ways to support students, faculty and staff who are living sober: 

1. Be aware of your language and stigmas associated with addiction 

Often, students in recovery are challenged in the college and university setting in a culture of misuse of substances like drugs and alcohol. These challenges are further met with stigmas that attribute substance abuse to a lack of willpower. Stigmas are false, negative beliefs held about a person or group of people. Using derogatory names to refer to people with an addiction, such as “junkie” or “crackhead” is also a form of stigma. These names are intended to be demeaning and hurtful. Further examples of addiction stigma include

  • Addiction is a choice. 
  • People who abuse alcohol are selfish and don’t care about their loved ones.
  • Only poor and uneducated people develop addictions.
  • Addicts are criminals. 
  • Someone with an addiction can not contribute to the community.
  • Someone with an addiction can not be helped.

Personal shame and stigma create tremendous barriers to addressing alcoholism and drug addiction, including access to addiction prevention, and treatment and recovery efforts at the individual, family, community and societal levels. By providing a counternarrative to recovery, faculty, staff, and students can provide inclusive spaces for healing free from judgment and stigma. Words can hurt, but they also have the power to heal, use your words wisely and intentionally. Together, we can build a Rowan community centered on compassion, understanding and support.

2. Consider intersectionality and systemic barriers to sobriety 

As discussed in previous DEI Blog posts, intersectionality is an important analytical tool to recognize the overlapping complexities of identities such as race, gender, sexuality, class, etc., and further dismantle systems that uphold power and privilege. With sobriety and healing, it is important to recognize how systemic ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc., contribute to poor mental and physical health, creating environments for potential substance abuse. These systemic inequities also create barriers to sustained recovery. For example, statistics on alcohol use disorder for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities have been significantly underreported due to cultural stigma and language barriers. Furthermore, there is a lack of data and long-term research on substance abuse for LGBTQIA+ communities. As such, systemic inequities and stigma lead to compounding domino effects in which individuals of marginalized communities face barriers of isolation and discrimination, creating further barriers to achieving and sustaining sobriety. Therefore, higher education and recovery-oriented spaces must center intersectionality, address and counteract inequities, and provide culturally competent care and support for sobriety.

3. Normalize the sobriety lifestyle 

College is often glamorized as a pro-drug and partying culture. Binge-drinking — defined as drinking four or more drinks over the course of two hours or until your blood alcohol concentration reaches 0.08 or above — is most common among younger adults 18 to 34 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control. As a community, we need to normalize the lifestyle of sobriety and recovery as a way of living, rather than categorizing sobriety as an isolated type of community. Normalizing the sobriety lifestyle allows for more acceptance and helps to remove stigmas around alcoholism and addiction. The sobriety lifestyle also provides socio-emotional and mental support to individuals in recovery so that they do not feel as if they are the ‘odd one out’. It also gives those in recovery a sense of belonging. If the culture of substance abuse can be considered the “college norm”, then so too can the decision to refrain from those choices. 

Rowan University Community of Support and Resources 

Wellness CenterAll Rowan University students are encouraged to access mental health resources and support through the Wellness Center, by calling 856.256.4333 or emailing 

Employee Advisory ServiceAll Rowan University faculty and staff are encouraged to access mental health resources and support by contacting the Employee Advisory Service. Schedule a session by calling 1.866.327.9133

Mental Health, Substance Use Disorder, and Crisis Resources:

Alcoholics Anonymous: If you would like a community of intergroup support for sobriety, find online meetings and online groups at:

National Suicide Prevention LifelineIf you are in distress and would like free, confidential crisis counseling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255. More than 150 languages are offered on the lifeline. Note: You do not have to be suicidal to call. 

Narcotics AnonymousIf you would like a community of intergroup support for narcotic sobriety, find online meeting and online groups at

Crisis Text Line: If you are in distress and would like free, confidential crisis counseling via text message, text HOME to the number 741741

SAMHSA National HelplineIf you are experiencing issues with mental health and/or substance use disorders, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline is a free, confidential information service and treatment referral. Call 1.800.662.4357

Smart Recovery:  SMART Recovery Online (SROL) online community where our participants interact and help one another recover from addictive behaviors. Features include daily online meetings, message boards, and 24/7 live chat. Found online at you can use this resource for help and addiction recovery support whenever you need it.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides free, confidential, immediate support and essential tools to enable victims to find safety. Call 1.800.799.7233

Resources for Continued Learning: 


Perron, B. E., Grahovac, I. D., Uppal, J. S., Granillo, T. M., Shutter, J., & Porter, C. A. (2011). Supporting students in recovery on college campuses: Opportunities for student affairs professionals. Journal of student affairs research and practice48(1), 45-62.

Terrion, J. L. (2013). The experience of post-secondary education for students in recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol: Relationships and recovery capital. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships30(1), 3-23.

Scott, A., Anderson, A., Harper, K., & Alfonso, M. L. (2016). Experiences of students in recovery on a rural college campus: Social identity and stigma. Sage Open6(4), 2158244016674762.

Iarussi, M. M. (2018). The experiences of college students in recovery from substance use disorders. Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling39(1), 46-62.

Perron, B. E., Grahovac, I. D., Uppal, J. S., Granillo, T. M., Shutter, J., & Porter, C. A. (2011). Supporting students in recovery on college campuses: Opportunities for student affairs professionals. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(1), 47-64. doi:10.2202/1949-6605.6226

The barriers of intersectionality in addiction recovery. (2021, January 18). Williamsville Wellness Center.


Lennon, J. (1980). Beautiful boy. Double fantasy. Geffen records.

Frey, J. (2003). A million little pieces. Rutgers University Press.

Haroutunian, H. (2013). Being Sober: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting To, Getting Through, and Living in Recovery. Rodale.

Spiegelman, E. (2015). Rewired: A bold new approach to addiction and recovery. Hatherleigh Press.