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Establishing a multi-campus network to reduce substance abuse among college students

October 24, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Kenneth Leonard, PhD

At colleges and universities throughout the country, binge drinking among students is no new phenomenon.  In fact, drinking surveys back in the 60s show that college students were among heavier drinkers, says Kenneth Leonard, PhD. 

At the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA), researchers are making the strides to educate students, clinicians, and college administrators about the dangers, trends and treatments for reducing substance use and excessive drinking among college students.  Leonard, who serves as the RIA Director, says the main goal is to bring awareness to the types of programs currently existing in this area, take a look at what works and what doesn’t, and to help the universities in New York understand the issues and help to initiate the successful programs. 

A two-day conference will be held in early November that will feature alcohol and substance use experts from the university and also from across the state. The conference, titled “The Challenge of Reducing College Student Substance Use: A Conversation in the Disciplines,” will bring together front-line staff from throughout the SUNY system who grapple with the real problems of college students’ alcohol and substance use and abuse, and the researchers who seeks to develop and evaluate substance-use prevention and intervention strategies. It will also provide an opportunity for participants to present information about their programs and to discuss issues regarding the startup and operation of effective programs.

Additionally, the conference will explore the potential for developing a multi-campus network of researchers and practitioners across New York State to address excessive college student substance use.  

Leonard discusses three main goals for this November conference and they include:

·        “To provide a forum for researchers, clinicians, and college administrators to learn about what has been tried, what works and what doesn’t in terms of college student drinking and drug use.

·        To develop a way statewide that we can routinely share this information across our campuses, so that if someone has a promising program that’s being utilized in Buffalo, people in Ithica can learn about it.

·        To hopefully develop some cross-campus collaborations to begin to test some larger ideas about how to affect college students drinking and drug use.”

He elaborates on the last bullet point by saying, “Most of the research that’s been done so far has focused on a single program. For example, many programs provide AlcoholEdu which a course that’s designed to highlight the problems with heavy drinking to college freshmen.”  Other aspects to keep in mind when looking at problems in this area include:

·        Social norms and social norms intervention

·        Policy perspectives with regard to what to in terms of dorm drinking, disciplinary policies

·        The university community, what the community-university relationships are like, and whether those can be utilized to help address this problem.

“Researchers tend to focus on one aspect which is largely teaching and intervening with students, but if you want to have a sustained impact, it seems as though impacting the entire college culture is the way to go,” Leonard notes. 

Leonard says they’re hoping to establish “collaborative research opportunities so that we can look at some of these broader issues and how we can impact an entire campus and make that impact last beyond the one or two years that you’ve started the program.”

With any type of prevention program, Leonard notes that the issue is always how to sustain the programs put in place and says “so that’s partly what we’re getting at with the connections across various campuses.”

On the topic of developing a multi-campus network of researchers and practitioners across New York State to address excessive college student substance use,

The conference is just one area of the three-pronged approach that RIA is offering this fall to work on this issue.  Another part is an expert summary titled “RIA Reaching Others: College Student Drinking.”  This fact sheet describes the dangers of college student drinking , especially binge drinking-the scope of the problem, specific points for parents and the value of prevention.  Leonard says they will circulate the document to policy makers throughout the state.

The third part of this approach is a presentation by Mark Wood, PhD, who, according to Leonard “has done a lot of intervention work on college student drinking.”  He will be speaking on “Individual and Environmental Preventive Intervention to Reduce Collegiate Alcohol Abuse: A Full-Cycle Approach.”

He says the fact sheet, and the presentation will lead up to the culmination that is the conference in November.  “This is part of a sustained process,” he says. “We want to have some long term effects on this issue in New York State.”