is assistant director for health promotion, Wellness Education Services.
How substantial a problem is substance abuse at UB?
Fortunately, it’s really not as outrageous as one might assume. The media portrays college as a time of complete reckless abandon, especially regarding alcohol consumption. But over the past several years, we have collected data from students indicating that most are drinking moderately, if at all. According to the data, 70 percent of UB students either abstain from alcohol or drink one to three drinks when they party, findings that mirror national statistics. However, about 10 percent of students report drinking 10 drinks or more during a night out. I often worry about them. If they break a law or policy, they might come to the attention of a professional, but if they suffer academic or social consequences, they may go undetected and eventually end up leaving the institution.
Moreover, the impact that high-risk substance users have on other students’ lives is also an overlooked consequence. Even though these high-risk students are in the minority, they cause other people unintended strife, such as loss of sleep, caretaking of an intoxicated friend, theft and damage of property.
What does your office do to address the issue of substance use on campus?
I think we have a very comprehensive alcohol and other drug prevention/harm reduction program here at UB. We collaborate with Counseling Services and Health Services to provide a well-balanced approach to outreach prevention activities and harm-reduction intervention initiatives. As far as substance abuse on a college campus goes, it really does take a village.
Wellness Education Services has implemented an online educational program that incoming freshmen complete in the summer before they come to campus. We also go into freshmen orientation classes with a 50-minute educational program that is an extension of what students learned from the online program, as well as facilitate some discussion of how things have changed since they arrived on campus.
Our main goals in alcohol harm reduction are that students know their standard drink size, how to drink safely, what to avoid doing and how to help friends who drink too much or use too many drugs. We tend to focus our efforts on alcohol because it is the most widely used substance, but all of our messages are transferable to any substance. We do tabling, outreach at events and presentations to classes, athletic teams and Greek chapters to deliver a universal message that students should take care of themselves and their community. It’s not their parent’s community, it is theirs, and they need to claim it and make it a safe and enjoyable place.
Wellness Education Services also provides an intervention program called UB SAFER that is typically attended by those high-risk substance users who have broken a law or violated a policy. It also could be useful for faculty to refer a student to this program for education and self introspection. The student is screened for alcohol and other drug misuse during this four-hour educational intervention and may be referred to Counseling Services for a higher level of care.
How can you tell if a student is struggling with substance abuse?
There is no simple way to identify someone who is using substances. Students who are substance abusers may have academic indicators that include poor class attendance, missed exams or assignments and repeated requests for extensions, as well as such behavioral indicators as inattentiveness, sleepiness, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate or being argumentative or disruptive. Their appearance may be disheveled and they may have a drastic weight fluctuation in a short period of time. I’m sure staff and faculty already see these kinds of things each semester, but they may not attribute them to substance use or abuse, or if they do, they may not feel empowered enough to offer assistance. They also must remember that while one of these indicators usually is not enough to signify a problem, a cluster of behaviors may be indicative of something more serious. In the end, at least in my experience, my “gut feeling” usually has been correct.
What resources are available if I am trying to assist a student?
Faculty and staff members with questions regarding a substance issue can call me at 645-6937; my colleague, Sharlynn Daun-Barnett, at 645-2837, ext. 5; or any of the professionals at Counseling Services at 645-2720. It is so important that students who are struggling with substance abuse do not fall through the cracks and get the proper intervention sooner, rather than later.
Here are some other helpful resources on campus, off campus and online.
- Wellness Education Services, 114 Student Union, North Campus, 645-6937, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Counseling Services, 120 Richmond Quad, Ellicott Complex, North Campus, 645-2720, Counsemail@example.com.
- Student Health Services, Michael Hall, South Campus, 829-3316, Studentfirstname.lastname@example.org
- Alcoholics Anonymous, 853-0388.
- Division of Substance Abuse Services, 886-2137.
- Erie County Medical Center–Substance Abuse Services, 898-3000.
- Horizon Health Services, 831-1800.