From the Daily: Learning to stay in the blue

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published October 21, 2014

On Oct. 15, University Health Service published the National Health Assessment Survey, a study that looks at general health indicators of the student body. The results of this survey provide a useful tool for identifying positive and negative health trends of University students. The Michigan Daily Editorial Board has isolated three main topics for analysis: Alcohol and drug abuse, mental health, and sexual health and relationships. This editorial focuses on alcohol and drug abuse among the student population.

The recently released results of the National College Health Assessment indicate that, while the University has met the Healthy Campus 2020 goals in various areas of health and wellness, alcohol and substance abuse remains a common detriment to students’ overall health and academic performance. Findings from the study conducted by UHS suggest students who reside off-campus are more likely to demonstrate unhealthy drinking behaviors, and a vast discrepancy exists between student perceptions and the reality of alcohol and substance use on campus. In order to improve student health and promote healthy behaviors, the University should modify current programs and priotitize outreach efforts to students who no longer reside on campus.

Increasing student education and awareness would significantly alter current student attitudes. According to the study, 96 percent of undergraduate responders believe the “typical” student uses alcohol one or more days each month. However, only 70 percent of undergrad respondents consumed alcohol at least one day within the past month, meaning there is a large, if unglamorized, community of students who do abstain from drinking. Students tend to overestimate the frequency of usage for substances such as marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines. For example, 87 percent of undergrads believe the “typical” student uses marijuana at least once a month, but the actual statistic suggests only 21 percent of the undergraduate population does so. Exaggerated perceptions of alcohol and substance use may cause students to feel social pressure to participate in unhealthy behaviors. While alcohol is a legal substance, the abuse of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs poses both health risks and legal consequences.

A high proportion of alcohol abuse occurs within Greek Life. According to the study, students who reside in a sorority or a fraternity house were found to be more likely to drink alcohol. The Interfraternity Council has instituted new rules — such as a ban of hard liquor at some open parties — in an attempt to decrease alcohol abuse. However, the data indicates more action may need to be taken. The high alcohol usage rates may stem from cultural pressures within the Greek system and a possible lack of alcohol education. The Greek community has institutional punitive policies in place to protect the health of its members, but opaque and reactive procedures must be paired with preventative and educational campaigns to be more effective. Regardless of the location and host of Greek system parties, both sorority and fraternity members exhibit unusually high rates of alcohol usage. Therefore, it is the responsibility of both the IFC and the Panhellenic Association to implement an effective program to educate their members.

The issue of alcohol and substance abuse is not limited to individuals within the Greek system. Substance abuse is highly correlated with living in a house or an apartment located off-campus. The frequency of usage among off-campus students as well as the high percentage of students who reported exceeding recommended blood alcohol content levels during the last time they drank suggests programs, such as Stay in the Blue may not be effective enough. The University can look to other schools to find stronger initiatives to educate students and to curb dangerous behaviors such as binge drinking. Frostburg State University, for example, has been able to decrease the number of students who partake in binge drinking from 57 percent to 41 percent since 2006. To do so, Frostburg State implemented more Friday morning classes and created social media campaigns to provide students with insightful, approachable information regarding the prevalence of drinking on campus.

In order to improve the health, safety and academic success of students, the University should seek to build upon the methods it uses to deter students from high-risk behaviors. While there are efforts to curtail alcohol and substance abuse among students in residential halls, a more comprehensive program must be created to ensure off-campus students possess the knowledge to avoid unhealthy behaviors throughout the duration of their college careers.