Evidence-Based Programming for Maximum Impact

Although there’s a lot of information out there on what works and what doesn’t, every campus is different. For your alcohol and other drug abuse prevention program to be effective, it needs to fit your community—and adapt as conditions change.

Evaluating your program is an integral part of maintaining and improving its effectiveness. Even when you start with evidence-based strategies and materials, data about your own students and prevention efforts is the “evidence base” for the effectiveness of your program.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Task Force suggests asking these questions:

  • What type of problem needs to be addressed (e.g., high rates of heavy drinking, fights during sporting events, underage drinking)?
  • What strategy is most likely to address each problem?
  • At what level should the strategy be implemented (e.g., at sports stadiums, campus-wide, community-wide, statewide)?
  • Who should participate in developing strategies? Who should participate at the start and who should be brought in only after a supportive base for action is established?
  • What strategies are currently being implemented?
  • How well are existing policies being enforced?
  • Would enforcement of existing policies be more effective than implementing new policies?
  • How can environmental and individually-focused approaches complement each other?
  • What resources are needed to implement new strategies? Are resources available?
  • How will new strategies be evaluated and fine-tuned to maximize their effect?
  • Are the students who need help most actually getting it? That is, are your interventions reaching the students who need them the most?
  • Are your strategies founded on solid, research-based findings? And, are those strategies reaching the vast majority of your student population?

SOURCE: Material for this checklist originally appeared in Toomey, T.L., and Wagenaar, A.C. Environmental policies to reduce college drinking. 

Research shows that giving students the bare facts about the risks of alcohol and drug misuse doesn’t change their behavior. To reduce high-risk drinking and drug use among students, a prevention program needs to correct their misperceptions about how much drinking or drug use is “normal” among their peers. It must also create an environment in and around the campus where underage and excessive drinking aren’t tolerated, laws and policies about drugs and drinking are enforced, and alcohol is not the focus of all social activities.

The more you know about perceptions of alcohol and drug use among your students and their actual drug and drinking behavior, the more effective your prevention program can be. A program like MyStudentBody can help by generating reports using data gleaned from student assessments in the Essentials and Student Conduct courses.

Programs like MyStudentBody that use a motivational interviewing approach that tailors drug and alcohol education to students’ own beliefs and behavior can help to correct their specific misperceptions and address their individual level of risk. Scheduled follow-up assessments give you the data to track changes over time, so you can evaluate where your program is working and where it could improve.

To help you choose effective interventions to add to your program, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) maintains the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), a searchable database of programs that have been reviewed and rated by independent reviewers. MyStudentBody is listed in NREPP.


National Institutes of Health National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2007). What Colleges Need to Know Now: An Update on College Drinking Research. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/1College_Bulletin-508_361C4E.pdf 

Ryan BE, Colthurst T, Segars L. (2009). College Alcohol Risk Assessment Guide: Environmental Approaches to Prevention. Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from http://searchpubs.higheredcenter.org/files/product/cara.pdf 

Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2002). A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/NIAAACollegeMaterials/TaskForce/TaskForce_TOC.aspx 

Promising Practices: Campus Alcohol Strategies http://www.promprac.gmu.edu/2005/BGRNDindex.htm 

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We are generally using MyStudentBody for judicial violations, but we hope to continue to expand use of the program for non-policy violating students. I am especially pleased with the personal service offered."

-Art Shuster, Director of Counseling at Warren Wilson College