Living Substance-Free

Use the information, tips, and resources here to affirm your dignity and that of others in our campus social, academic, and professional spaces.

Students who wish to live substance-free and pursue their educational and social goals deserve to feel seen, supported, and connected with their peers. The real and/or perceived substance use and party culture on some college campuses can feel like an “abstinence hostile context” and students forego, postpone, and transfer to other colleges to connect with a more readily available sober network (Laudet 2016).



Community and Activities

  • Daybreaker: Wellness, Community, Music, Mischief
  • Meetup: Find sober groups in Berkeley
  • Collegiate Recovery Program: A program for UC Berkeley students in recovery from substance use and who are currently struggling with alcohol and drug use.  

Recovery Support

  • UHS Social Services offers confidential and non-judgmental counseling and consultation about your use or that of a friend or family member. They can consult with you about what types of treatment and levels of care are appropriate, including referrals. (510) 642-6074. 

  • Collegiate Recovery at Cal (CRP) - Connect with our campus Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP). It’s designed to be a supportive environment within the campus culture that reinforces the decision to disengage from behavior that led to a substance use disorder.  It is designed to provide an educational opportunity alongside recovery support to ensure that students do not have to sacrifice one for the other.  

  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information. Also offers online treatment locators

Substance-Free Housing at UC Berkeley 

Some Reasons Students Choose to Live Substance-Free

<21 Years Old

21 is the legal age for purchasing and using alcohol and recreational cannabis in California. And there are numerous other alcohol and drug-related policies and laws to know, (e.g. fake ID, open container, public nuisance). For many students, breaking the law goes against their values and carries more risk of getting into trouble than it’s worth. 

Not Aligned with Religious Commitment

Religiosity has been shown to have a consistent impact on emerging adult health attitudes and behaviors. Rew and Wong [15] found it had a positive impact on health behaviors and alcohol use in 84% of the relevant studies reviewed. Wallace and Forman [17] identified a consistent negative association in that adolescents who scored higher on religious commitment were less likely to engage in drinking behaviors. It is not only external commitment, but the internalized religious beliefs that have the greatest influence on their recent drinking experiences [18]. (Porche, 2015)   

In Recovery

While many think recovery means abstinence, in actuality, it’s many things — from striving to change with the support of friends and family to going regularly to group therapy or using activities like art, yoga, or journaling. Recovery often starts with individuals increasing their awareness of their substance use, as well as its impact on their lives and those around them. Each individual's road to recovery is different. However social support, such as connecting with others in recovery, is one of the best predictors of success.   

SAMHSA defines recovery as a "process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential." 

2.2% of UC Berkeley students identify as being in recovery in 2021 - that is the same as the national average on college campuses (NCHA)  

Sober Curious

According to Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol, and founder of “Club Söda,“ being sober curious means to choose to question, or get curious about, every impulse, invitation, and expectation to drink, versus going along with the dominant drinking culture.

About Living Substance-Free

Substance-Free Living Stats

48% of new Berkeley students have not used alcohol in the past year (similar to our peer institutions). 51% male and 46% female-identified. (AlcoholEdu 2019). Most of us deeply underestimate the percentage of students who abstain from: 


  • Undergraduate: actual 48%,perceived 7%
  • Graduate: actual 21%, perceived 0%


  • Undergraduate: actual 73%, perceived 11%
  • Graduate: actual 76%, perceived 6%

(Source: NCHA 2019)  

One of the most important variables that predict whether students continue to abstain, is a close friend who abstains. (Huang et al 2011)  

More than 2000 new Berkeley students each year want to plan and attend substance-free activities. Top choices include outdoor adventures; movie nights; fitness classes; live music; nothing specific - just a good place to hang out with others; and community service. (AlcoholEdu 2019)  

In Fall 2019, 874 new Berkeley students wanted to be contacted about recovery support programs and services available on campus. (AlcoholEdu 2019)  

One of the first studies to characterize Collegiate Recovery Program students and their experiences (Rabolt, 2018 re: Laudert 2016) found that:  

  • 29% were seniors, 23% were juniors, 18% were sophomores, 17% were freshmen, and 13% were graduate students.
  • 58% cited drug addiction  
  • Students reported high levels of perceived past harm from their substance use (41% ‘considerable harm’ and 32% ‘extreme harm’); they also perceived a high degree of potential future harm were they to continue or resume regular substance use (15% ‘considerable harm’ and 77% ‘extreme harm’) and correspondingly high future benefits of staying in recovery from substance use (13% ‘considerable benefit” and 83% ‘extreme benefit).  
  • Most had not used alcohol or drugs in several years: The mean duration since last alcohol use was 31.7 months. 
  • 34% indicated “I would not be in college right now if I hadn’t found a recovery support program on campus”.  
  • In terms of perceived helpfulness of CRP participation, 28% selected "extremely helpful", 31% selected "quite a bit", 20% selected "moderately", 14% selected "a little", and 6% selected "not at all".

Students in the Texas Tech Collegiate Recovery Community have been shown to have:  

  • Higher graduation rates (70% compared to 60% of the general student population)
  • Higher GPAs (Mean of 3.18 compared to 2.93 among the general student population) (Rabolt, 2018)  


Substance-Free Living Tips

Proactively think about these questions & scenarios. How will you express yourself to others? 

  • What are your social & leisure priorities for this semester?
  • What are your reasons for choosing not to drink or use other substances? 
  • What are your roommate agreements regarding substance use?
  • If a group is gathering to go out, how might you express your desire to join? 
  • If you don’t want to use a substance offered, how might you directly and authentically decline?

“Recovery Capital” is all of the support the person in recovery can receive. Not all of the following are necessary, but each can be a predictor of recovery and make it more likely to succeed: 

  • Social Networks: The friends, family, and professionals who help with emotional support and therapeutic guidance. A friend network that respects sobriety is one of the most critical pieces of someone’s recovery.  
  • Material Resources: Some people have access to money, organizations, medication, or other services that can be helpful — for instance, a stable job, housing, or healthy meals.
  • Cultural Environment: A social environment that doesn’t encourage or emphasize drinking or other drug use will help the person recover.
  • Personality: Things like an individual’s drive and ambition, and their mental health status will affect their recovery. 
  • Information: Access to knowledge and education about the recovery process can make a difference. 

To be an ally for recovering and other substance-free students, here are some things not to do:  

  • Don’t assume that all social activities have to involve alcohol and other drugs.  Plan substance-free activities and opportunities to socialize, receive social support, have fun, and feel the natural dopamine/serotonin benefits. 
  • Don’t assume you know how they feel. Instead, listen closely to what they have to say. 
  • Don’t question/minimize/discount their concerns about their use. This might seem obvious, but many substance use disorders are invisible, and the person may appear more functional than they are. If someone tells you they’re in recovery, don’t express skepticism. 
  • Don’t question how long it’s taking. Recovery is not easy. Remember, everyone’s journey is unique, and that will impact the time it takes. 
  • Don’t tell others without permission. It can be very difficult for someone to share that they are in recovery. Be sensitive to that, and remember it is not your story to tell.  

Here’s a list of ways to support people in recovery and living substance-free: 

  • Make sure the person knows they’re not alone. Recovery can be very isolating. Offer your support, and acknowledge their efforts. — ask how you might be most helpful. 
  • Check in with them. While it’s not your place to push for information, ask someone how they’re doing, in a non-judgmental way,  to show your support.
  • Support their chosen form(s) of recovery. Ultimately, the choice of how to recover is up to the person in recovery.
  • Let them know that they are worthy of all the benefits recovery could offer. The hard work and shame of recovery can make it challenging to see the potential gain. Remind them that things can get better over time.
  • If inviting the person to hang out with you, inform them of any potential for substances to be present. Check in with how they feel about being around other people who are using substances, including yourself, and be sensitive to that.