By Taylor Davis
Spring break is normally the time of year when college students let loose, trading midterms and research papers for parties on the beach. While this week offers a reprieve from stress and studying, it also typically involves excessive drinking.
According to a study conducted by the American College of Health, the average male reported consuming 18 alcoholic drinks per day on spring break, while the average female drank up to 10 beverages per day. This level of binge drinking can pose health and safety risks that have long-lasting negative consequences.1
If you’re a college student who’s in recovery or simply wants to avoid the party scene, you might feel like there are no good options for enjoying a sober spring break. But alternative spring break programs provide students like you a safer and healthier spring break experience.
What Is an Alternative Spring Break?
An alternative spring break program enables you to spend the week of spring break volunteering rather than partying and binge drinking. Many universities have student-run organizations that facilitate service trips, or you can partner with nonprofits in your area to get involved in your local community.
No matter what type of volunteer work you’re interested in, you can find an alternative break program that’s a fit for you. Let’s take a look at three common types of alternative break programs:
1. Student-led Campus Initiatives
Many college campuses have formalized, student-led alternative spring break programs. So why not start by researching options at your own school?
Vanderbilt University, one of the nation’s alternative break pioneers, currently offers nearly 40 sites around the country focused on a range of service areas.2 As an alumna of the Vanderbilt Alternative Spring Break program, I had opportunities to work with a homeless shelter, a children’s medical center and a Hurricane Katrina relief organization. Each trip left a lasting impact on my life and introduced me to new communities and students I otherwise wouldn’t have met.
2. Greek Life Programs
In addition to overarching campus programs, many Greek organizations provide alternative spring break options for their members. For example, the Office of Sorority Fraternity Engagement at Iowa State University has organized two service projects for students: volunteer at a homeless shelter in Indianapolis or rebuild schools in Jamaica. Both trips are designed to help Greek members examine socioeconomic status and use their leadership skills to serve those in need.3
If you’re in a sorority or fraternity, contact your university’s Greek Life department or your Greek organization’s national headquarters to ask about alternative spring break opportunities.
3. Nonprofit Organizations
If your school doesn’t offer an alternative spring break program or you simply want to support a cause that aligns with your interests, nonprofit organizations can be another good resource to consider.
Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Want to help families achieve affordable housing? Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge offers year-round opportunities for groups of five or more to volunteer on home build sites or in the organization’s ReStore.4
- Teach for America’s Impact: Spring Break enables you to combine a passion for educational equality with a desire to serve, and you don’t have to be an education major to apply.5
- Love the outdoors? Check out the American Hiking Society’s alternative breaks, and explore nature while helping improve trails.6
Volunteering: A Spring Break Option With Mental Health Benefits
Not only do alternative spring break programs allow you to give back to the community, but they also offer many mental health benefits. In fact, studies show that volunteering reduces feelings of depression and helps you better manage stress.7
So if you want to decompress without compromising your sobriety — whether it’s during spring break or any other time of year — consider volunteering for a cause that’s meaningful to you. You’ll be surprised at what focusing on and helping others can do for your overall well-being.
1 Glatter, Robert, MD. “Spring Break’s Greatest Danger.” Forbes, March 11, 2014.
2 “Sites by Issue.” Vanderbilt Alternative Spring Break, Accessed February 14, 2018.
3 “Greek Alternative Spring Break.” Iowa State University Office of Sorority Fraternity Engagement, Accessed February 15, 2018.
4 “Collegiate Challenge.” Habitat for Humanity, Accessed February 15, 2018.
5 “Impact: Spring Break.” Teach for America, Accessed February 20, 2018.
6 “Alternative Break.” American Hiking Society, Accessed February 20, 2018.
7 Rogers, Kaleigh. “Volunteering Is the Best Kept Secret for Mental Health.” Motherboard, December 5, 2017.