A Report
from the
Task Force
on Alcohol
and Other
Abuse Issues

Providing Comprehensive Health Education

Because they are in the business of education, colleges and universities must aim to fully educate their students. That includes education for a full and productive life. Detailing the academic, social, health, and safety hazards of alcohol abuse must be ongoing. A recent report from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University notes that epidemiologic evidence points to an increasingly strong connection between alcohol abuse and a variety of health problems, including AIDS, cancer, heart disease and stroke. Moreover, the report recognizes growing evidence that college drinking patterns can lead to future, more serious alcoholism problems.

Any comprehensive health education program needs to provide, at a minimum:

  • Accurate medical and biological information on alcohol and its effects and the consequences of its use.
  • Accurate legal information on alcohol purchase, possession and consumption and the penalties for violation of laws.
  • Accurate information on the personal, interpersonal and community social consequences of alcohol abuse.
  • An ethical context for decision-making skills to implement thoughtful and responsible decisions.

“If we are to accomplish anything, there must be adequate funding for program expansion in all areas. No longer can the lone substance abuse professional and/or counselor be expected to carry the program. We must have services —diagnostic, testing, treatment, education and counseling— available in sufficient numbers to meet the need. And, of course, we must recognize and admit that there is a need on our campus.”

Margaret Bridwell, M.D.
Director, University Health Center
University of Maryland

Such a program must be based on fact and research, and should lead to reducing the incidence and prevalence of underage drinking, abusive high risk/binge drinking, and negative consequences for individuals and those associated with alcohol consumption. It should reinforce the positive culture of the country as a whole and deemphasize the subculture of alcohol abuse. Social norming campaigns are a positive example of how this can be done to effectively change behavior.

Educators should consider the culture and demographics of their individual institution and the roles which gender, race, age and developmental level play to insure that a program of education attracts and reaches students. Students at historically black colleges, for example, seem to have fewer problems related to alcohol and other drug use, the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention reports. Extensive support networks for academic and professional achievement, high regard for family and spiritual values, a deep sense of shared history and vision, multi-faceted community ties, and pride in African roots may be important characteristics that differentiate these schools from other institutions. Building on the strengths and characteristics of an individual university’s community is of great value.

“…These first few weeks are obviously very important in setting the standards we expect these students to meet and in setting the tone of campus community life.…
Among the most significant [of social norms] is the perceived norm regarding the use and abuse of alcohol and other substances. Alcohol abuse by students, especially binge drinking, is one of the most difficult problems on college campuses around the nation.…
Again, the research is clear that the most progress is made in dealing with this problem when it is treated as a matter of “environment,” rather than as an individual matter (although individuals still must be held accountable for their own behavior).

Colleges and universities should enlist the direct support of their president, who can write persuasively and effectively to the parents of incoming students and to the faculty stating the behavioral standards—setting the tone for community life—at the school.

Faculty must be cognizant of being on the “front-line.” They are close to the students, influential, and intelligent observers. A student who needs help, through university or community resources, may be most obvious to a faculty member first.

On a personal level, students need to hear that they are responsible as individuals, that they must know their own limit and consider their family history and genetic and physical makeup in determining whether and how much to drink. Teaching them how to handle acute intoxication of a classmate or friend should also be on the agenda.


Collegiate Alcohol Abuse: Recommendations and Guidelines