April 5, 2022

Managing substance use and other behaviours at the end of the semester

The end of the semester can be a time of increased stress due to exams, time away from loved ones, moving, preparing for graduation, or other life changes. Sometimes, students increasingly turn to substances or use other behaviours to cope with stressors. Understanding how to manage these pressures can help you cope in healthier ways and wrap up the semester strong. Read on to find some strategies for self-care and boundary setting this exam season.
Student stressed

Before the end of the semester, brainstorm a plan to tackle potential stressors. As with any busy time of the year, there will likely be last minute changes and things that don't go as planned. Avoid potential triggers by preparing yourself for any upcoming challenges, and don’t be afraid to say no. Think of the coping mechanisms you will use and keep them on hand. Examples of some coping mechanisms can be a journal, music playlist, trusted friend available to call, fidget toy, affirmations/mantras or any other resource that helps.

On a day-to-day basis, make sure your basic needs are met by remembering to H.A.L.T.

  • Hungry - try to eat regularly. Skipping meals can affect your blood sugar, and in turn, your mood.
  • Angry, Irritable, Restless - improve your mood by going outside, meditating, or exercising. This reduces stress and rumination.
  • Lonely - check in with a trusted family member or friend for a quick pick-me-up when you are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Tired - exam season means a lot of studying and late nights. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and rest throughout the day.

These risk states can harm your physical or mental health and can lead to burnout over prolonged periods of time.

Although pressures and deadlines may take priority during these periods, try to stay connected to loved ones and support networks available to you. Call someone that is aware of your substance use and/or other behaviours, attend peer-support meetings, or connect with others online in recovery groups.

Schedule time in advance for some breaks and fun activities such as socializing with friends and family or practicing self-care. Having a set routine will help you avoid using substances or falling into other behaviours to relax. You will also be more focused when you get back to studying.

The end of the semester can also be a time of increased social substance use. Don’t forget to:

  1. Drink water regularly. Eat before and while drinking or using substances.
  2. Don’t try to keep up with others. Start slow and go at your own pace to figure out what works for you. Don’t forget that you can always say no, and don’t need to provide an explanation.
  3. Use substances with people you trust. Check in with your friends and others around you while using.
  4. Mixing substances can increase risk of overdose and other negative side effects. Be aware of possible interactions between substances beforehand.
  5. Know the signs of overdose. If you see a suspected overdose, call 9-1-1. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and skin colour or temperature changes.
  6. Prepare a plan to get home safely in advance.
  7. Have fun!

Naloxone kits are available at Safeworks, Sheldon Chumir Health Centre, as well as most pharmacies across Canada including Varsity Pharmacy on campus.

Drug test strips are available at Student Wellness Services, Varsity Pharmacy and Residence Services. Contact yasmeen.nosshi@ucalgary.ca for more information.

On campus resources

Off-campus resources