Alcohol and Drug Abuse on Campus: How to Prevent Addiction Among College Students

How do we ensure our colleges and universities are cradles of learning rather than nests of alcohol and drug abuse? By promoting a culture of sober living and by giving our students the support they need to succeed in life.

Schools around the nation are taking proactive steps to combat out-of-control drinking and the dangers it poses to their campus communities. Many administrators have also begun to tackle the thorny issue of drug abuse among college students. Every year sees the roll-out of innovative new programs designed to curb excess and inspire good decision-making. The key is sifting through what works and what doesn’t.

The Search for Solutions

Alcohol and drug abuse have become major problems on our nation’s campuses. That much is well known. Study after study reveals alarming statistics and dire prognostications about today’s college students. The question now is what to do about it.

The stakes are high. Binge drinking and drug use can lead to poor academic performance, imprisonment, lifelong addiction, and even death. Intoxicated students can also pose a danger to others. Widespread substance abuse can easily transform a safe learning space into a toxic environment.

Fortunately, it’s possible to minimize the risk. If recent efforts are any indication, combatting substance abuse starts with educating incoming freshman and ends with outpatient addiction treatment for students who already struggle with dependency issues

What Are Schools Doing About the Substance Abuse Problem?


Group of students studying at a tableTake the case of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). In 2001, it gained the dubious distinction of being the number-one party school in the nation, an infamous title that has since gone to many different schools throughout the nation.

In response, school officials launched the Safety, Environment, & Education (SEE) Center. In addition to limiting student access to alcohol on campus, the school also provided targeted education to at-risk populations within the student body. Within a year of its founding, rates of high-risk drinking fell significantly.

Other schools have pursued different tactics. St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, for example, initially took a more punitive approach, upping the penalties for students who violated the school’s alcohol policy. It then combined those stiffer penalties with the removal of alcohol paraphernalia from campus events. Finally, it launched an addiction recovery program for students who needed more help overcoming their dependency issues. After implementing the measures, the school saw its high-risk drinking fall from above average to below average.1

Other colleges across the country have had similar success, albeit with different programs. Examples of successful initiatives include Auburn University’s Health Behavior Assessment Center, which provided one-on-one counseling to at-risk students, and Bowling Green State University’s Peer-Based Alcohol Misperception Program, which sought to reduce peer pressure by giving students a more realistic picture of how much (or how little) their fellow students actually drank.2

What More Can Be Done?


College Student Reading Book OutsideThe problem may that there are too many successful approaches or too many strategies that have been touted as successful. With so many different programs out there and so much detailed (and sometimes contradictory) information, administrators often feel overwhelmed. Which programs are right for their campuses? How do they sift through all the data?

The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In order to respond effectively, each school must:

  • Collect data on the behavior of their own student population
  • Research successful strategies
  • Adopt campus-specific approaches
  • Enforce existing policies
  • Educate students and train staff
  • Partner with government agencies and community organizations
  • Collaborate with local Florida rehab centers to provide treatment1

Only by crafting policies that address the specific problems faced by their community can officials hope to make an impact.

Where Should Schools Begin?

There are many initiatives out there, but all have one goal in mind: to reduce dangerous behavior and lower the rate of substance abuse on campus. For beginners, any comprehensive anti-alcohol and drug initiative should:

  • Reduce the availability of alcohol on campus
  • Emphasize a positive culture of health and sobriety with alcohol-free activities
  • Limit exposure to alcohol and drug paraphernalia
  • Strictly enforce existing laws and campus rules
  • Include stiff penalties for repeat offenders
  • Offer addiction recovery programs for struggling students

What Are Examples of Effective Strategies?

Combating substance abuse requires a combination of approaches and campus-specific knowledge. That being said, the following strategies have shown great promise:

  • Educate Students: Education remains one of the simplest, yet most effective tactics for minimizing risky behavior. Although many colleges force offenders to take interactive online courses, experts say they would be better served by requiring all incoming freshman to undergo such alcohol training as part of their orientation. New students, or at least those who haven’t yet traveled down the path of substance abuse, need to know there’s a better way.4 

College Student Running on SandOf course, telling students not to drink isn’t enough. College students, like all modern consumers of information, want to see the data for themselves. They will then make their own decisions based on their interpretation of the information. At the end of the day, it’s more effective to disseminate statistics about healthy behaviors than it is to wag fingers at bad behavior.

One particularly effective method is to let students know just how many of their peers aren’t drinking. Since peer pressure is a primary risk factor for alcohol and drug abuse, peer pressure in the other direction can be a mitigating factor. By normalizing moderation, instead of excess, administrators can go a long way toward reducing risky behavior.

  • Promote Alternative Lifestyles: Campus culture is one of the leading contributors to alcohol and drug abuse among college students. It’s fairly simple. If students think it’s normal to drink until they black out, they’ll be far more likely to do it. When all is said and done, initiatives that target campus culture tend to have a more pronounced effect on the student body than the targeting of individual students.


These days, colleges and universities have a leg up, if they know how to take advantage of it. Healthy living is more popular than ever. Many Americans, young and old, are embracing exercise, mindfulness, and nutrition. By offering more physical fitness classes, keeping the gym open longer, promoting mindfulness, and encouraging good nutrition, schools can replace the current emphasis on binge drinking and chemical dependence with a positive message of health and wellness.

On the flipside, there’s nothing unhealthier than dumping large quantities of chemicals into your body. Pointing out the discrepancies between these two choices may end up swaying students in favor of sober living. 

  • Emphasize Academics: The purpose of colleges is to educate. You might not know that by attending some campus events or surveying some portions of the student body, and that’s precisely what needs to change. By raising academic standards and focusing on the school’s core mission—education—colleges can begin to reorient campus life toward learning and achievement, rather than partying and substance abuse.

Students Taking a Test

  • Support Students: More often than not, students need support; they need someone who is able and willing to counter the effects of peer pressure. Most students want to do the right thing; they simply need to know that their family and their teachers stand behind them and that someone is proud of their decision to abstain or to exercise moderation. Never underestimate the power of role models and support networks in promoting healthy behavior.
  • Provide Recovery Programs: No anti-drug or alcohol program is complete without an addiction recovery Every school and every parent must acknowledge that substance abuse is a real problem on college campuses. It is hoped that long-term initiatives will reduce the need for alcohol and drug addiction therapy.

Until then, many students need help overcoming their dependency issues. That’s why punitive measures should always be accompanied by constructive compassion. Effective alcohol and drug addiction treatment initiatives such as RECO Intensive’s outpatient addiction treatment program are the first steps toward repairing the damage inflicted by campus cultures that encourage substance abuse.

Looking to the Future


Student Smiling Outside of College ClassroomWhen parents and teachers provide students with the support they need, they do their part to reduce the burden of substance abuse on the nation’s youth. The goal is to replace a culture of intoxication with one of hard work and sound judgment. If we’re successful, we’ll do our part to ensure each individual, and the nation as a whole can look forward to a bright and healthy future.

Don’t be afraid to ask for drug addiction help. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse issues, contact RECO Intensive to learn about our comprehensive Florida drug rehab programs. Together, we can make sobriety possible.



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