|Richard Carmi, Acting Director of CSAP|
Alcohol. Marijuana. Opioids. Vaping. It is not a secret that misuse of these substances and others is a very real, and in some cases, a growing threat on college campuses nationwide. Preventing substance misuse in a college environment requires involvement across all higher education sectors, from the administration, to campus safety, to student affairs. Colleges and universities face unique challenges of working to acknowledge the problem, and then coordinating program resources to address these issues.
If you are working on prevention in a higher education setting and wondering how to unpack the problem, you are not alone. The good news is there are many lessons we can learn from each other within the prevention field, especially in the higher education community, on how to solve issues related to substance misuse on campuses, steps we can take, and examples of past successes to encourage campus communities to move prevention forward.
What We Know
- Underage Drinking: According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 18.8 million young adults ages 18 to 25 consumed alcohol in the past month. An estimated 34.9 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 in 2018 were binge drinkers in the past month, which corresponds to about 11.9 million young adults.  Stated another way, more than a third of young adults in 2018 were binge drinkers.
- Marijuana Use: More than a third of young adults in this age group (34.8 percent) were past-year users of marijuana—or about 11.8 million young adults.
- Opioid Misuse: Nearly two million 18- to 25-year-olds misused opioids in the past year.
- Vaping: Despite vaping bans on college campuses, the Monitoring the Future study reported that e-cigarette use actually increased among college students from 2017 to 2018—from six percent in 2017 to 16 percent in 2018. Vaping marijuana in particular increased from five percent to 11 percent.
Resources and Tools Available to Help
These numbers are staggering, but there are resources and tools available through SAMHSA to help communities and universities address diverse substance misuse issues, understand the importance of prevention, and mitigate the impact of these substances on transition-aged youth.
- SAMHSA’s Technology Transfer Centers: In addition to publications and digital resources, seek out SAMHSA’s Technology Transfer Centers as a resource in your prevention efforts. Comprised of three networks organized by regions, the TTC program includes the Prevention Technology Transfer Centers,Addiction Technology Transfer Centers, and the Mental Health Technology Transfer Centers. Their mission is to connect communities with expertise in the prevention, treatment, and recovery fields so they can produce measurable changes in outcomes. Due to their regional focus, they are well positioned to play an important role in school-based prevention strategies—such as promoting health education programming, linking students to community programs, and increasing parent engagement in prevention and recovery initiatives.
- SAMHSA’s Regional Administrators: In each of SAMHSA’s 10 regions, a Regional Administrator promotes initiatives that advance behavioral health and engages target populations. They offer an “insider” perspective and are acutely aware of issues happening in universities and colleges across their regions. This positions them to support campus leadership through technical assistance and program development and make connections to prevention coalitions, programs, and SAMHSA grantees in the area.
Publications and Videos
- College Drinking: Prevention Perspectives video series: “Embracing Culture and Context to Prevent Underage Drinking” and “Lessons Learned at Frostburg State University”— These episodes provide an inside look at prevention strategies that have worked to reduce campus underage and harmful drinking.
- Behavioral Health Among College Students Information and Resource Kit: This kit discusses the consequences of substance misuse among college students including the misuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. It explores various contributing factors such as peer pressure, stress, social norms, and advertising messages.
- The Sound of Your Voice Parent Resources: It’s important for parents to talk with their college-bound young adults about alcohol use. Consider including The Sound of Your Voice video and the Talking with Your College-Bound Young Adult About Alcohol guide  in college orientation resources for parents.
Activities and Initiatives
- Communities Talk events: Each year, community-based organizations nationwide, including colleges and universities, host events to mobilize their communities to prevent underage drinking. Since 2006, more than 10,000 SAMHSA-supported events have been held across the country.
- National Prevention Week Planning Resources: SAMHSA’s National Prevention Week is a public health observance in May recognizing the important work that has been done in communities throughout the year to inspire action and prevent substance misuse and mental disorders. College and university communities can use National Prevention Week resources, ideas, and activities to strengthen and broaden substance misuse prevention efforts and campus dialogue year-round.
With these resources and insights, SAMHSA hopes you feel well equipped to tackle the trends of alcohol and drug misuse among college students.
By combining our resources to advance prevention efforts, we will make an impact in preventing substance misuse and promoting positive well-being among college-aged young adults in the years to come.
Richard Carmi serves as Acting Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Through this position, he provides national leadership in the development of policies, programs, and services to prevent the onset of illegal drug use, prescription drug misuse and abuse, alcohol misuse and abuse, and underage alcohol and tobacco use; and promotes effective substance abuse prevention practices that enable states, communities, and other organizations to apply prevention knowledge effectively. Mr. Carmi provides leadership in the development and implementation of SAMHSA’s priorities, strategies, and practices for effective prevention programming for states, communities, and individuals.