Dr. Leah Pylate
Dr. Leah Pylate

Preventing alcohol and other drug use on college campuses is not easy, especially considering this is a complex undertaking with many moving parts. We often forget this task encompasses more than the individual person. Therefore, prevention should be comprehensive and viewed through a bioecological perspective, one where a person’s relationships, environment, policies that govern behavior, and other factors are considerations (Bronfenbrenner, 1977).

Primary prevention practices include sharing foundational information about alcohol and other drugs with the campus community to increase awareness and understanding. In addition to these education efforts, other primary tools include changing policies to reduce access and implementing evidence-based prevention programs. Student leaders and organizations have an opportunity for prevention as well because they can help shape the foundation for incoming students to understand the cultural norms and expectations for healthy behaviors. Student
organizations can also be a place where students feel comfortable talking to one another and can be directed to the appropriate resources on campus to get help for early intervention. As knowledge doesn’t equal behavior, behavior modification is challenging, especially as many students may come to campus with unhealed past traumas. Therefore, screening in secondary prevention is helpful to identify those at high risk. Tertiary prevention practices help to re- ducate and support students in recovery from alcohol and other drugs.

One resource that has gained momentum is a supportive higher education program named Collegiate Recovery. While the programs may vary across institutions, the mission remains the same – to support students recovering from alcohol and other drug use, or other addictive behaviors. Collaboration is needed to ensure that students’ needs are met, and Collegiate Recovery Programs have the capacity to offer support in various ways, academically and socially. Having a supportive resource available to a parent or family member is helpful, and a CRP also can provide support for students in long-term recovery. Additionally, students involved in CRP programs give back to the community and offer a unique voice for primary prevention.

We need more communication regarding various family-centered programs. A family can find itself amid a crisis involving one of their members. A son or daughter may need help, and the family members may not know where to turn. Parents need awareness of treatment centers or other available resources. While addiction is a family disease, unfortunately, not all treatment centers offer a family component of recovery.

To assist families in their recovery journey, we need to address families as a system, instead of isolating and targeting the individual alone. We should not ignore the family in the recovery
journey. Tertiary prevention is helping someone to not return to a behavior. This prevention of a return to behavior is an essential part of the health-promoting work in the family too. The environment of the college student should be considered, and the family should be included in the solution.

Families can help college students and other family members in recovery in several ways:

1. Be empathetic.

Brené Brown has a short film on empathy that is worth watching. Truly, we can connect with parents and college students when we share a moment of concern coming from an empathetic standpoint.

2. Provide evidence-based information for prevention and recovery.

There are many sources of information, but providing correct information and not spreading misinformation is a key piece of helping rather than hindering a process.

3. Support Collegiate Recovery Programs.

Attend a CRP function at an institution of higher learning near you if you have the opportunity. Listen to the stories of young people who are in recovery and those who assist in the prevention efforts of helping young people live a fulfilled life in recovery.

4. Advocate for additional resources for families.

Most of us can name a friend or family member in addiction or recovery. Advocating for families, whether through monetary support or other resources, is a long-term endeavor.

5. Recovery is a process, not an endpoint.

Recovery takes time and is an enduring process. Take time to heal past trauma, and view recovery as an ongoing process, not an endpoint.

6. Be mindful of language.

When discussing addiction, we should avoid calling the person an “addict” or labeling the person anything but what they are—a struggling human being. Therefore, be mindful of language used to describe people struggling.


7. Prevention starts early. It’s never too early to have an age-appropriate conversation with a family member about the use of alcohol or other drugs. Letting a person know you care and that they matter can make a difference.

On a college campus, several offices are needed to have a collaborative and holistic approach to alcohol and other drug use prevention. Offices include health promotion, student health services, student counseling services, collegiate recovery programs, advocacy services, conduct services, and others. A college provides opportunities for students to build relationships and connections with others. These same opportunities may also increase the risk for those most vulnerable.

Therefore, a collaborative process is appropriate and needed to help prevent alcohol and drug use on college campuses.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, 32(7), 513.

Leah Pylate, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at Mississippi State University and most recently served as the Director of Health Promotion and Wellness in Student Affairs. She serves on MSU’s Collegiate Recovery Community board and is a Certified Health Education Specialist. She has family members in long-term recovery and desires to assist families in better understanding addiction and recovery through a family system perspective.

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