Dropping Out of School to Attend Addiction Treatment

College student

After working with hundreds of families trying to get their loved ones into treatment you begin to recognize barriers that are common amongst families, and parents in particular. As a counselor, I certainly understand their reasoning but at the same time feel it is my job to educate the family so that they can, if nothing else, make an informed decision. The biggest reason for putting off treatment I have been seeing recently is families prioritizing their loved one’s education over the handling of their addiction and their health.

True many men and women struggling with addiction are unable to maintain grades and as a result, are dismissed from their school. However, a staggering number of men and women are able to maintain grades in a high enough range that they can continue their education. Unfortunately for these men and women, a college environment is quite possibly one of the worst places someone struggling with an addiction could be. According to a study that was done in 2016 by the National Institute on Drugs and Addiction, college students had significantly higher rates of marijuana, alcohol and amphetamine abuse than those of non-college students.

It is my strong professional belief that an individual’s health and wellbeing must take the highest priority above all else. A Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree or even a Doctorate becomes relatively meaningless if the person finds himself or herself unable to function and live a happy and productive life due to addiction. If you lose your sanity, freedom or worse yet, your life, because of addiction, an education really becomes very meaningless.

Below are some common reasons I have heard from parents as to why their loved one cannot go into treatment now or cannot go into inpatient treatment.

  • In only a few months they will have their degree.
  • They have been working so hard for this for so long we can’t make them stop now.
  • My child will resent me forever if I make them quit.
  • Maybe it’s just a phase, a lot of college kid’s party too much.
  • We will get them into treatment after they finish their degree.

The last point is without a doubt the most common reason as to why someone who is currently enrolled in school will not seek or go into a full-time residential program. This is due to the “wanting to have it all” mindset. I understand this mindset and don’t disagree with it. Truly, if you can have it all and be successful, then why not go for it. Unfortunately, when it comes to addiction and effectively overcoming your addiction you will quickly discover that this is a full-time, twenty-four-hour-a-day process that can take many months.

Consider why an individual uses drugs in the first place. Many addicts will openly confess that stress and anxiety are big factors that contribute to their drug use or their eventual relapse. School, especially college, is nothing if not stressful. Remove the academic stressors and expectations and what are you left with? You have men and women who are trying to make new friends, in a new environment and living on their own for the first time which all adds additional stress that someone recovering from addiction may be unable to handle.

When it comes to helping a loved one recover from a serious addiction, the strongest piece of advice I could give to any family is to go all in. Many families and addicts want to try the “easier” route first. “Let’s start by seeing a counselor and see if that works. If that doesn’t work we will go to an outpatient program. If outpatient fails we will go to a short inpatient program and then if that fails we will go for a long-term inpatient approach.” The problem with this gradual approach to tackling addiction is that you or your loved one’s life is at risk every moment of every day that they are using. Every failed attempt at treatment opens them up to a litany of potential mental, physical and legal side effects resulting from their addiction.

When it comes to helping your loved one, go all out and give them the best possible chance to be successful and to recover. Sadly, it may be the only chance they ever get and they deserve a chance at recovery and a chance at life.





Certified Addiction Counselor and staff member at Narconon Colorado