College and university campuses are unique environments when it comes to drug use, addiction, and treatment. Data from the American College Health Association’s most recent National College Health Assessment Survey for Fall 2017 show a sizable gap between surveyed undergraduate students who report using drugs and the perceived usage of various drugs on campus.
* Respondents were asked about usage ranging from daily to any time within the last 30 days.
Certainly, perceived usage is not an accurate representation of actual usage, but the disparity suggests that despite extensive campaigns to dissuade drug usage, a significant misperception continues to exist regarding the so-called normalcy of drug use among students. The same survey showed that although 83.4 percent of students received information from their college or university regarding drug and alcohol use, nearly 66 percent are not interested in receiving such information.
Campuses must continue to work to enhance prevention efforts while also building infrastructure to support intervention and treatment. This is indeed easier said than done as there are a myriad of issues that cloud intervention and treatment, including fears surrounding law enforcement involvement, parental notification, and social stigma, all of which might be obstacles for students seeking help with a drug problem. Realizing this, a number of campus health organizations have sought out innovative and effective ways to reach students at their level.
|Devin A. Jopp, Ed.D.|
The Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) is an excellent starting point for campuses and students alike. The organization’s website, www.collegiaterecovery.org, allows students to search for local resources such as student-led recovery meetings and support groups, as well as on-campus treatment options related to health care, wellness, or counseling teams. Students may also take advantage of broader resources like the AHRE’s magazine aimed at supporting students through lifestyle changes and useful strategies for maintaining sobriety.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website is another multifaceted resource that can help close the gap between students struggling with substance abuse and available treatment programs in their area. Besides sponsoring and presenting National Recovery Month each September (events and toolkits can be found at https://recoverymonth.gov/), the organization also provides a Behavioral Health Resource Locator tool that students can use anonymously to find counseling, inpatient, outpatient, and other treatment programs by searching for their city/state or zip code.
One of the most interesting new developments in helping students address substance abuse is the designation of “sober dorms” or “substance-free student housing.” Rutgers University, University of Florida, Oregon State University, College of New Jersey, Texas Tech, University of Vermont, Auburn University, Penn State University, Ohio State University, and dozens more colleges and universities all offer some form of sober or recovery housing, many of which are also connected to programs for ongoing recovery and relapse prevention. The AHRE reports that 95 percent of students involved in collegiate recovery programs maintain their recovery and don’t relapse while involved with the program. Comparatively, relapse rates in the general population range between 40 percent and 60 percent.
Clearly, the role of campus health is still evolving in response to drug and alcohol abuse, but the era of “inform and advise” must be supplemented with a strong “respond and support” function. In doing so, we are starting to identify better avenues for prevention, and more appropriate methods for reaching at-risk students and those already struggling with substance abuse before there are lasting negative impacts to their health and academic success.
Devin A. Jopp, EdD, is Chief Executive Officer of the American College Health Association (ACHA). Since 1920, ACHA has served as the voice for student health and wellness. Through advocacy, research, and education, ACHA stands at the forefront of issues that affect the health and wellness of our college students, representing over 1,100 institutions of higher education and the collective health and wellness needs of 10 million college students. Learn more about ACHA and the National College Health Assessment, a nationally recognized survey tool, at www.acha.org.