As our college and universities continue to diversify, so too must our methods for helping address substance abuse on our campuses. This past year marked the beginning of the next generation of young people, known as “Generation Z.” Unlike Millennials or Gen Xers, fewer young people of this generation experimented with substances or have had sex before they arrive on campus. Their arrival further diversifies campus communities, which have never been as eclectic as they are today.

Michael LaFarr
Michael LaFarr, Psy.D.

To help ensure we keep up with our ever-changing student body, the Health Promotion team at the University of Denver is engaging their colleagues across campus to ask tough questions, like “How are we engaging students in conversations about their relationships with alcohol and other drugs?”. While most people agree scare tactics have limited efficacy in preventing substance abuse, what are the alternatives? Social norming campaigns resonate with some, but not others. We have to be more systematic and intentional about how we speak with students about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. We have to develop new and different ways as our student body looks and acts differently than they did even a decade ago. Our goal should be to address student need across the spectrum, from prevention through support of those in recovery. This scope of work would demand clinical and non-clinical interventions.
The opioid crisis has engaged some people who may have previously said that drug and alcohol education is the work of health promotion or the counseling center. More and more of our colleagues across campus report having a family member or other loved one who has been affected by opioids or another drug. Out of this crisis has come greater collaboration and a sense that we are all in this together – addressing abuse and addiction is no longer solely a problem of one office.
As you continue to think about new ways to address issues of drug abuse and addiction on your campus, I urge you to look around and find allies and partners you may not have used before. Is there a faculty member whom you haven’t engaged? Is it time to establish a Collegiate Recovery Community on your campus? Are there alumni who are engaged in this work?
We are stronger together.  A strategic, multi-departmental, campus-wide approach to prevention will no doubt help our students no matter where they are coming from or what their path to arriving on our campuses.

Michael LaFarr, Psy.D., currently serves as Executive Director of the University of Denver’s Health and Counseling Center. He formerly served as Executive Director of Health and Wellness at Brandeis University, and was Director of Student Affairs at the Harvard School of Public Health. Michael also served in the U.S. Peace Corps (Education and Health Promotion) in Mali, West Africa.

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