Future directions for prevention in higher education

Addressing Violence, Substance Abuse, and Mental Health Concerns Among College Students

Editor’s Note 2016: In order to provide readers with the most up-to-date resources, this blog has been edited since its original publication.

During the college years, when students are making the transition from teenager to adult, they often face many different challenges and growing pains. One critical challenge is learning how to ensure their own health and safety, specifically around issues of substance abuse, binge drinking, mental health, and violence.

NASPA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) are proud of our collaboration to address the critical issues of substance misuse, college binge drinking, mental health, and violence on college campuses. These issues are inextricably linked; and while they are difficult topics to broach, it is important to do so.

Colleges are one of the best places on which to focus our prevention efforts. With more than 17 million college students in the U.S., college students comprise a group we cannot ignore. These young adults will be entering the workforce, if they aren’t there already, becoming parents, and leading our society in just a few short years. By ensuring they understand the implications of alcohol and drug misuse, we are looking to the future – and making a difference.

Alcohol Use and College Students: A Look at the Facts

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there has been a steady decline in underage drinking from 2002 to 2013. Yet alcohol still remains the most widely used substance of abuse among youth and young adults aged 12 to 20.  There was a significant decline in the level of past month (current) underage alcohol consumption, as well as a drop in underage binge drinking.

  • Current underage drinking among those aged 12 to 20 decreased from 28.8 percent in 2002 to 22.7 percent in 2013.
  • Current underage binge drinking also declined from 19.3 percent in 2002 to 14.2 percent in 2013.  (NSDUH defines binge drinking as having five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least one day in the past 30 days).
Alcohol: Still the Most Widely Used Substance Among Young Adults

Despite this reduction, however, more youth and young adults aged 12 to 20 currently use alcohol (22.7 percent) than use tobacco (16.9 percent) or use illicit drugs (13.6 percent).

The Monitoring the Future survey reveals troubling statistics, specifically with regard to the pervasiveness of binge drinking among college-aged adults:

  • About 6 percent of college students smoke marijuana daily (or near daily).
  • About 4 percent used amphetamines in the last 30 days.
  • Binge drinking is the most troubling, with about 28-34 percent indulging in the last two-week period.
How Can We Help College Students Make Healthy Decisions?
Safe Campuses and the Critical Role of Student Affairs Professionals

In working to help college students make good decisions, we know that the faculty and staff they interact with on a daily basis can make a big difference in how these transitions play out.

Student affairs professionals work tirelessly to make campuses safe and healthy places to live and learn, and therefore must address issues of substance use and misuse, mental health, and violence and sexual assault among college students. Student affairs administrators play an important role in helping students navigate the developmental waters of the college years.  A quick look at statistics underscores their importance and influence: 

  • Alcohol use, violence, and sexual assault on campus:
    • Vice presidents of student affairs report alcohol is involved with 57 percent of violation of campus policies, 52 percent of violent behavior, and 72 percent of acquaintance rapes.  
  • Alcohol use, academic success, and degree completion:
    • Academically, alcohol is found to be involved in 30 percent of lack of academic success and 23 percent of student attrition. 
  • Mental health issues for college students:
    • Nine of 10 counseling center directors report a steady increase in the number of students arriving on campus that are already on psychiatric medication and two out of every 1,000 students has been hospitalized for psychological reasons.
  • University mental health services and campus substance abuse and violence prevention resources:
    • While most campuses have designated professional staff to address alcohol and other drug abuse, student mental health, and violence prevention, chief student affairs officers report that resources to implement effective strategies to address these issues are less than adequate.
Prevention Resources and Events for Student Affairs Professionals

NASPA recognizes the need for networking, information sharing, training, and support for campus professionals charged with addressing alcohol and other drug abuse, mental health, and violence prevention. We also recognize these issues do not happen in a vacuum. For many years, NASPA has held simultaneous conferences to promote dialogue, collaboration, and integration among the professionals responsible for preventing abuse, harm, and violence and promoting health and wellness among college students. 

The speakers at the annual NASPA Strategies Conferences: Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention, Mental Health, and Violence Prevention will address the integration of these issues, effective strategies, and why collaborating to provide comprehensive programs not only creates healthy and safe campuses, but also improves student success and retention.

Clearly, there’s work to be done. The future of prevention in higher education is an integrated approach in which campus professionals cross disciplines and work collaboratively to solve problems. 

About the authors: Frances M. Harding is the Director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP). Kevin Kruger is the President of NASPA.