As back-to-school season approaches, college students prepare to start new classes, see friends, and be tested—both inside and outside of the classroom. When school starts, students will be faced with decisions about partying, drinking, and drug use, and what they decide can have profound effects on their academic achievement and health.
- Two in five full-time college students ages 18 to 22 engage in high-risk drinking, and one in five uses illicit drugs.
- Students’ substance use can lead to death, injury, assault, sexual abuse, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, academic difficulties, and other unwanted consequences.
Many colleges and universities are already committed to addressing substance use issues on their campuses. Last year, SAMHSA sponsored a challenge to seek solutions to prevent high-risk drinking among college students through cost-effective, portable, technology-based products. Among the top entries and three final winners was first-place Syracuse University for its interactive, educational website, BE Wise. The website is designed to reduce the occurrence and negative outcomes of excessive drinking by creating awareness of one’s alcohol consumption limits, educating students about the signs of alcohol poisoning, and providing emergency numbers and information on what to do in a potentially dangerous situation involving alcohol.
Focusing on proven prevention strategies can help health professionals, parents, and schools guide college students toward healthy decisions.
- Harness peer power: Research shows that students will talk to peers before they will approach campus professionals; students also trust what peer educators say about health more than resident assistants, friends, or the Internet. Students can encourage friends and classmates to think about, discuss, and make informed choices about alcohol and illicit drug use and other health and safety risks. In addition, involving young people to help develop campus messages and materials helps to “get it right” with respect to terminology, believable messages, and realistic scenarios.
- Keep having the important conversations, parents: Parental influence matters. Whether kids are away at school, living at home, or back for vacation, parents should continue to talk with them about important health behaviors like substance use, set clear expectations, and lend a listening (and compassionate!) ear during times of stress.
- Put effectiveness first: Affecting student behaviorrequires more thancirculating information about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. Colleges and universities should seek to integrate the following tactics into school-based prevention efforts:
- Cognitive-behavioral skills training, which helps change students’ beliefs and thinking about alcohol use;
- Motivational enhancement interventions to stimulate a student’s desire to change a risky behavior; and
- Challenging expectancies, for example to show that drinking does not necessarily produce many of the effects students anticipate, such as sociability and physical attractiveness.
SAMHSA extends to all students and their families good wishes for a successful school year.
Resources for addressing substance use issues on college and university campuses: