Skip to main content

A Strengths-Based Look

How alcohol use is being addressed at post-secondary institutions in BC

Jeff Thompson

Reprinted from "Alcohol" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 2 (9), p. 29-30

This article focuses on some of the good things happening at post-secondary institutions to support healthier relationships with alcohol use

The BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information Campus Project, funded by the Provincial Health Services Authority, supports communication within and between post-secondary institutions in BC. The Campus Project is currently working with Douglas College, University of Northern British Columbia, University of Victoria and Thompson Rivers University—chosen for regional representation—to improve mental health and decrease substance use problems

Recognizing problems and opportunities

A recent Canadian Campus Survey (2004) found that 32% of undergraduate students drink at hazardous levels. The misuse of substances is estimated to cost the Canadian health care system four billion dollars each year.1 There are more than 600,000 undergraduate students in Canada and 24% of Canadians have attended university. Improving health in relation to students’ drinking habits could have considerable national impact.

Education institutions are realizing that academic performance, the individual health of students, and the health of the community are all impacted by drinking behaviour. During the year of the survey, 7% of students reported they drove a car after drinking too much. Many institutions recognize things need to improve, and they are choosing to address the problem, refuting any suggestion that excessive drinking is part of the university experience.

Supporting connection

Research by Elissa Weitzman of Harvard University found significantly fewer substance use problems where people had a sense of responsibility and connection to each other (as indicated by levels of volunteerism).2 Volunteerism appeared to have a protective effect related to substance use problems. Promoting volunteerism and other alcohol-free social connection opportunities may help students develop support networks and strategies to deal with stress.

The Canadian Campus Survey also found fewer substance use problems with students who were living with their families

Decreasing stress

The Canadian Campus Survey reported 29% of students had elevated levels of psychological distress—twice as high as a non-student population. Student stressors may include adapting to academic, financial, social, and environmental changes. One out of 10 students reported elevated levels of psychological distress along with hazardous levels of drinking.

Universities are attempting to decrease student stress by offering a range of services, from courses in stress management, to free yoga classes.

Promoting non-alcoholic options for socializing

So called “happy-hours” and low-priced promotions are associated with hazardous drinking practices. Many institutions prohibit advertising of low-price promotions on campus. Institutions are generally conscious about not endorsing events that support excessive drinking. A number of student residences (4%) prohibit alcohol use, while 15% of students indicated they would prefer to live in an alcohol-free residence.

Supporting the power of community and policy

Institutions are recognizing that collaboration with local communities is necessary to effectively address substance use problems, since most drinking by students occurs off-campus. Policies that prohibit low-priced alcohol sales or promotional events appear useful in decreasing substance use problems.

There is growing recognition that healthy communities contribute to individual health and vice versa. Some institutions emphasize the need for a caring oncampus community by developing policies and programs that support staff and faculty health—and by accepting a level of responsibility and developing the ability to care for students.

Listening to students

Through the Campus Project, students are being asked to join working groups to explore what can be useful in decreasing substance use problems on campus. Drawing on the expertise, creativity, insight and energy of students has been recognized as a necessary part of addressing substance use problems at post-secondary institutions. Students are in the best position to suggest what initiatives can be most effective.

In summary

By recognizing strengths presently being exercised in dealing with alcohol use problems, we are in a good position to build on them. For example, if we take the strengths of community involvement and listening to students, we could build on them by encouraging the creation of a contest, supported by the community, to solicit solutions from students toward decreasing substance use problems at post-secondary institutions

 
About the Author

Jeff is the Campus Project Coordinator for the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information. He also provides clinical supervision to a number of agencies in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and is a certified psychodramatist in private practice

Footnotes
  1. Adlaf, E.M., Demers, A. & Gliksman, L. (Eds.) (2005). Canadian Campus Survey 2004. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

  2. Weitzman, E.R. & Kawachi, I. (2000). Giving means receiving: The protective effect of social capital on binge drinking on college campuses. American Journal of Public Health, 90, 1936-1939.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our various e-newsletters featuring mental health and substance use resources.