Alcohol and Other Drugs Assessment: Asking the Right Questions
Alcohol and drug abuse prevention programming needs to fit the specifics of your college or university and its students in order to be effective. So assessing conditions on your campus is an essential part of any prevention program.
To make your assessments as useful as possible, you need to ask the right questions. The answers to these questions will give you a true picture of alcohol and drug abuse patterns among your students, and will reveal actions you can take that have the potential to reduce your students' risky behaviors.
What Should You Know?
A useful assessment should tell you:
How many students drink or use other substances, how much they consume, and how often.
- Assessments contained in MyStudentBody can gather this data.
- If you don't have your own surveys, consider using the Core or National College Health Assessment (NCHA) data for schools similar to your own.
Who is drinking and using drugs on your campus.
- Are there activities, organizations, or even majors that have a higher incidence of substance use?
- Are there groups who are less likely to drink or use drugs?
When are they drinking?
- Are there days of the week, times of the year, or specific events that correlate with more drinking or drug-related incidents, or with student reports of increased drinking or drug use?
- How does the academic calendar seem to affect student drinking?
What are the consequences?
- How do drinking and drug use affect students, the campus, and the community?
- Collect data on incidents that affect both the user (primary consequences) and other people (secondary consequences).
Where are they drinking?
Are students drinking on campus? In off-campus bars? At fraternity and sorority parties?
Your assessment should also look at social, physical, economic, and legal factors that may contribute to an atmosphere of increased drinking or drug use on campus, among students, and in the nearby community.
Are your school's alcohol and drug policies taken seriously and enforced uniformly?
Do campus "traditions" include turning a blind eye to student alcohol or drug use on certain occasions?
Are alcohol-related laws (minimum legal drinking age, driving under the influence, open container bans, etc.) enforced in the community?
What role do local bars play? Are they meticulous about not serving underage patrons? Do they offer student discounts or happy hours that make drinking more affordable?
Are Friday classes as demanding as classes on other days? Does the faculty generally avoid giving tests, quizzes, or important assignments on Fridays?
What steps has your institution taken to discourage hazardous drinking and substance abuse on campus? For example:
- Do the admissions and orientation processes send a clear message about alcohol use and student conduct?
- Are the academic requirements tough enough, especially for first-year students?
- Does the school offer attractive social and recreational activities where alcohol is not served? Are these events well-attended?
- Are students involved in efforts to reduce high-risk behavior?
- Are alcohol distributors and manufacturers allowed to market on campus?
- What other campus policies and expectations might directly or indirectly influence student drinking?
Sources of Information
MyStudentBody can gather information on patterns of alcohol and drug abuse and sexual violence among your students, and it can sort this data by student demographic and social groups. Other groups on campus and in the community can be good sources of information as well. Among those who may have valuable perspectives on student drinking and drug behavior and their effects:
- Fraternity and sorority leaders
- Local and campus police
- Disciplinary/student conduct committees
- Residence life staff
- Health services
- Athletic department staff
- Local merchants
- Bar and club owners
You can gather information both informally—through conversations and focus groups—and formally, by using official records. You can survey students, faculty, staff, and administrators, and also invite them to participate in informational meetings and task forces.
If it is unclear whether incidents have an alcohol or drug component, consider asking organizations and departments to include substance-involvement data in their future records.
Getting a comprehensive picture of alcohol- and drug-related activity and problems on your campus and among your students is an important first step, but it's also one that should be ongoing. Accurate information from multiple sources is the best foundation for successful alcohol, drug, and violence prevention planning.
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Dowdall GW, Wechsler H. (2002). Studying College Alcohol Use: Widening the Lens, Sharpening the Focus. College Alcohol Study, Harvard School of Public Health. Retrieved December 9, 2011 from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/cas/Documents/alcohol_lens/Focuslens.pdf
Ryan BE, Colthurst T, Segars L. (2009) College Alcohol Risk Assessment Guide: Environmental Approaches to Prevention. The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention. Retrieved December 8, 2011, from http://www.higheredcenter.org/files/product/cara.pdf.
Saltz R, and DeJong W. (2002). Reducing alcohol problems on campus: A guide to planning and evaluation. Retrieved December 9, 2011, from http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/media/FINALHandbook.pdfBack