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Colleges Wage War on Substance Abuse

In today’s world, the fight against addiction on college campuses is an uphill battle. The peer pressure to begin using drugs and binge drinking is stronger than ever; pair that with the increased availability of the substances (and throw in the Opioid Epidemic), the door for abuse is blown wide open. According to the (NIH)  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about four out of five college students drink alcohol. Though drinking has long been the most common form of substance abuse in college, the National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that the use of marijuana, prescription drugs and illicit drugs is on the rise.


The graph below highlights some of the research done by Amelia M. Arria in which it depicts the age groups of students that encounter easily misused substances. It is an alarming the situation in our country where kids as young as 14 are put in situations that give them access to alcohol; which truly furthers a culture that is blind to the consequences of these harmful substances. These findings are clearly grounds for change. These students experienced a world that previously ignored the crisis they were living in.


Today, however, people have come to see the direness of the situation. This is seen predominantly in higher education, as the administrations on college campuses have to started to forge new paths towards recovery. In a revealing NYTimes article entitled a Bridge to Recovery on Campus, author Abigail Sullivan Moore discusses the changes -in regards to recovery programs- that can be seen on college campuses: “Back then, there was little talk about helping students transition to college after treatment for their drug and alcohol problems. Even in 2002, when the nonprofit Association of Recovery Schools was formed, only four colleges joined. But over the past several years recovery programs have been popping up at colleges, large and small, public and private. Now there are more than 20 programs, with more in the pipeline. Texas Tech University has used some $900,000 in federal grants to help campuses build programs. Case Western Reserve and Augsburg College, like Rutgers, provide separate housing. William Paterson University groups recovering students in substance-free housing, where drugs and alcohol aren’t welcome. Texas Tech puts its first-year students on their own floor. New this fall, students at the University of Michigan could choose a recovery room from the residential life to live with a like-minded roommate … Until recently, public policy focused on prevention and treatment.”


Not only are administration working on rehabilitating students they are also working towards eradicating the problem. When fighting these battles it is important to find the most effective strategy to stop the culture of substance abuse on campuses. In an interview with Dr. Eric Wood (Texas Christian University), Dr. Wood identifies two of the most successful tactics: “Responding to these challenges requires targeting both the individual student as well as the campus community. Regarding individual interventions, it’s more effective to assess the impact of a student’s substance use. For example, I often ask students how they would know if they are involved in an unhealthy/abusive dating relationship … Then I ask the student to view their substance use as a relationship, and ponder if this relationship is healthy or not. Such is an example of using an interpersonal approach to motivational interviewing, which research has shown to be very effective. Regarding campus wide interventions, developing a bystander intervention program is by far the most effective campus wide intervention. In fact, some argue it’s the only effective campus wide intervention. The hallmark of a bystander program is providing information on how to help a friend in distress. The assumptions being that students are less resistant to this message, are still getting knowledge about local resources, and will use these resources themselves if needed. Such a program also interjects help-seeking into the vernacular of the campus culture, and this is vital for us.” Dr. Wood is able to clearly articulate that in order to face the challenges of seeing substance abuse on a campus is to address the individual and the culture of the campus.

In the end it is pivotal that these colleges continue to work diligently to fight the crisis that lives within the campuses. The shocking age at which students first can experience these substances only adds fuel to a dangerous fire; the efforts of the colleges to institute recovery housing and programs begins the efforts to put out the flame.