Effective strategies to prevent Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug (ATOD) problems must involve students, administrators, faculty and community members. While ATOD prevention work has not always been seen as part of traditional faculty and staff roles, your engagement in prevention efforts are vital to program success and should not be overlooked. Likewise, it is critical that you have the necessary support and resources to take care of your own personal well-being.
- Substance Use and Academics
- How to Help a Student
- Resources for Faculty and Staff/Syllabus Statements
Alcohol is the number one substance used by college students across the nation followed by marijuana. According to the 2019 SUNY/OASAS Survey, 74.2% of Binghamton University students drank alcohol in the past 30 days and 33.3% smoked marijuana.
Substance use can have significant impacts on students’ academic success. Alcohol and drug use can impact motivation, cognition, memory, and concentration. Students who report engaging in substance use have lower GPA's on average than students who are non-users. According to Meda, et al. (2017), those who use both alcohol and marijuana have an average GPA of 2.66. Often times students are unaware of the impact substance use may be having on their educational performance or they may attribute difficulties to factors such as mental health, relationship problems, etc. The reality is that all of these factors are intertwined and it is crucial that college students become educated about the toll alcohol and drug use can have on their academics and overall well-being.
Signs and Indicators a Student May Have a Problem
- Decline in academic performance. Academic warning signs that could indicate a student may be strugling with alcohol or drug misuse include: frequently forgetting homework, missing or skipping classes, and significant drop in grades or quality or work.
- Unusual lack of motivation. When a college students goes from being someone who actively participates in class and is an active member of campus groups, to someone who is lethargic and lacks the desire to engage with others, this is a sign something is going on.
- Physical changes. There may be a number of physical signs that are indicative of concerns with alcohol or other drugs. These signs can include lack of energy and motivation, red eyes and cheeks, difficulty focusing, constricted pupils, and chronic nosebleeds.
- Neglected appearance. Substance use can interfere with students daily functioning. There may be a decline in physical appearance including apparel and grooming.
- Changes in behavior and relationships. While not all changes in behavior or relationships is attributable to substance use, it may be a factor in accounting for these changes. Signd indicative of a potential problem include: strained relationships, temper outbursts, changes in peer or social group, and defensiveness surrounding behavior.
- Specific smells. There are a number of substances that may linger on individuals who use them. These may include odors of marijuana, cigarettes, or alcohol.
- Falling asleep during class. Students who use substances such as alcohol and marijuana regularly tend to have disrupted sleep schedules or simply are not getting restful REM sleep.
- Inability to make contact. Have you been getting the feeling that the student is avoiding making eye contact with you? Does he or she not return your emails? Substance misuse can cause a person to withdraw from those who are closest and to hide what is really going on.
While talking about substance use with a student can often feel uncomfortable for all parties involved, there are some ways you can lesson the stress and help students get the support they need. Here are a few tips for talking to students about their substance use and sharing resources with them.
IN PRIVATE, SHARE OBSERVATIONS & ASK CURIOUS QUESTIONS. For example, say “I have noticed that your academic work has not been as strong lately. I’m wondering if there are some things going on that may be contributing to this.”
ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS. Ask questions that will encourage the student to open up and to avoid one-word answers. For example, say “I have noticed you’ve been quieter than usual lately. Talk to me a little bit about how the semester has been going for you.”
LISTEN MORE THAN YOU SPEAK.
AFFIRM POSITIVE CHOICES & AVOID JUDGEMENT. It’s important to empower students by affirming what they are doing well. Acknowledging negative choices is important, but refrain from passing judgment or implying students don’t know themselves or are “less than” capable.
AVOID DIRECTIVES. Refrain from telling students what they “should” do and, instead, encourage them to evaluate both the good and bad of their decisions.
BRAINSTORM. Together, brainstorm potential solutions to the problems discussed and/or next steps (recognize this part of the conversation will be based on what the student talks about and/or willingness to acknowledge or change destructive behavior). Reaffirm that they have choices.
DEMONSTRATE CARE & CONCERN. Make clear to students you are concerned about their health and wellness in general, and not just the academic or athletic performances that may impact you as a professional.
RECOGNIIZE INDIVIDUALITY. Recognize that every student’s situation is unique. Avoid grouping students who drink or use drugs into stereotypical categories such as “athlete” or “Greek life member”. Students have different motives for use, experience different social and environmental pressures, have unique family backgrounds, etc.
OFFER SUPPORT & REFER. Be familiar with and connect students with University resources. Be transparent and let students know if you are going to pass along their contact information or copy them on an email. If talking to students in person, follow-up with an email containing the resources you spoke about.
CHECK-IN WITH THE STUDENT. After the initial conversation with students, touch base periodically to see how they are doing and to offer ongoing support.
If you still feel uncomfortable approaching a student about your concerns, know that you can contact the CARE Team or the College Prevention Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org) to recommend help for the student. Filling out a CARE report form prompts the Dean’s office or other campus support systems to check in with the student.
There are times when we may unknowingly send “mixed messages” to our students regarding alcohol and other drug use, creating an unhealthy culture and confusing environment for our students. Examples of mixed messaging include: when campus policies conflict with state laws (i.e. recreational marijuana) and when we share misinformation about substance use because of our own beliefs, biases, or lack of thorough vetting of information. Whether it is an advertisement of substances, encouraging the “rite of passage” idea, or reinforcing a culture in which alcohol is part of celebrations, we have an opportunity to support students and assist them with making decisions that will positively impact their future.
Tips for Reducing Mixed Messaging
- Explore your own views on alcohol and other drugs, and how you talk about substances with students.
- Consider the context and environment students are living in as it pertains to alcohol and substance use. Explore why messaging may be mixed and challenge yourself and your students to think critically about what is the truth.
- Increase your own education on the facts and myths surrounding alcohol and other drug use, and encourage your students to do the same.
- Be aware of resources on campus and in the community for students exhibiting concerning behavior.
- If you see something, say something to the student and/or refer the student to appropriate resources.
Binghamton University supports faculty, staff, and their families in finding the best possible solution to address concerns about alcohol or drug misuse. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is an assessment, referral and consultation service available to University faculty, staff, graduate student employees, retirees and their dependents. EAP staff provide confidential, professional, work-site based guidance at no cost to University faculty, staff, graduate student employees, retirees and their families. EAP offers supervisory consultations as well as individualized assessment and referral to appropriate community and professional resources.
Suggested syllabus content:
"Should you have any concerns related to alcohol or drug misuse or abuse by yourself, a friend, or family member please reach out to the Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs (ATOD) office. The ATOD staff is responsible for coordinating prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services for Binghamton University students living on and off campus. Students can schedule a private consultation with the College Prevention Coordinator by emailing email@example.com. Students can also find information regarding where to get help, warning signs of a problem, risks, harm reduction strategies, etc. at the ATOD website binghamton.edu/hpps/atod/."
Suggested Content if You are a Recovery Ally
As a faculty member who cares deeply about my students’ health and well-being, I have taken theRecovery Ally Training provided by the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Office. While this does not make me an expert in substance use, treatment or recovery, it does indicate my desire to listen to my students empathetically and to help connect them to resources. Please feel free to approach me, so I can help you connect to resources for you or for a loved one.