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Alcohol abuse focus of campus efforts
OXFORD, Ohio -- College presidents nationwide have identified drinking and other substance abuse as one of the three most critical campus problems.
But traditional substance abuse prevention models that rely on providing information about the dangers of alcohol abuse have failed to alter behavior.
However, the University of Arizona and Northern Illinois University have succeeded in changing campus drinking practices via a new approach that focuses on empowering the majority of students who are not high-risk drinkers, according to Miami University health educators.
"We need to recognize that students shape their environment and are shaped by it," says James Slager, senior administrative director for health services.
Karen Murray, director of health education, and Cate Fopma-Leimbach, prevention coordinator, are working on a campaign that promotes self-assessment and assists students to understand and value the lifestyle changes that they themselves deem helpful.
Miami's new approach includes social marketing, alternate (non-alcoholic) activities, peer monitoring and risk-reduction education.
Because 65 percent of entering first-year Miami students have already used alcohol, efforts will be focused on supporting and encouraging alcohol's low-risk use rather than abstinence.
"More than 90 percent of Miami students already believe drinking five or more drinks increases the risk for harm.
Our goal is to help students make healthy choices based on that knowledge," says Slager.
Peer influences are critical in the new approach. Studies have shown that students drastically overestimate the levels of drug and alcohol abuse by their peers. Students who believe the vast majority of their fellow students are abusing alcohol tend to drink more heavily themselves.
To address these and other factors, Miami's office of health education in collaboration with students and faculty from the marketing department are planning an extensive social marketing campaign to promote positive behaviors and raise social consciousness. In addition, there will be increased efforts to provide non-alcoholic activities.
"We'll be looking at data on Miami students' behavior and their attitudes toward alcohol use to evaluate the success of our new environmental approach," Slager says.
Among last year's efforts: