6 Ways To Strengthen College Drinking Prevention During COVID-19


College Drinking Prevention Remains a Top Priority

While there have been many media reports about how the increased stress and uncertainty of COVID-19 has led to increasing issues related to mental health and substance abuse, a recent survey released by Course Hero, in collaboration with the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) indicates that college students are actually drinking and using cannabis less during the pandemic. 

While nearly 1 in 5 respondents indicated “constant” anxiety about the pandemic, 62% of students indicated that they are drinking less, or not at all, during the pandemic – 84% report using less or no cannabis.

Still, despite these positive results, college drinking prevention continues to be a top priority for schools around the country. Their efforts to help students control their drinking are obviously impacted by social distancing and remote learning required during the pandemic. So how are colleges addressing drinking prevention and avoiding alcohol misuse for college students during COVID-19?

Why Are College Drinking Prevention Programs Still Vital?

It’s especially important for students to be focused on controlling alcohol consumption while separated from the larger campus community during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to information from the CDC:

  • Drinking alcohol weakens the body’s infection-fighting ability and can increase the risk of complications if people do contract the virus
  • Alcohol use can increase the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia, both of which are sometimes associated with COVID-19

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Best Practices for College Drinking Prevention During COVID-19

While schools may be challenged to a certain degree to continue on with critical communication to help students practice safe habits related to alcohol consumption, six best practices for college drinking prevention programs to continue during COVID-19 include:

1. Focus on first-year students and begin their education and awareness process early in their college careers. 

2. Partner with faculty to attend their classes to educate and update students—whether in-person or online.

3. Schedule programming at unique times or sending messages/reminders/prompts at times when students may be most at risk.

One school, for instance, uses a “Can’t Sleep” program approach, to deliver information on Monday evenings at 11:00 pm. Feedback from students indicates that they appreciate the privacy and ability to speak freely during these events as other members of the household were likely to be asleep. This can be especially powerful during the pandemic as more students are at home with their families and privacy may be at a premium. 

4. Partner with Residence Hall Directors and Resident Assistants, for those students still on campus in residence halls, and provide them with information and access to critical resources to help carry and convey messages from trusted allies.

5. Enlist peers as empowered bystanders.

6. Support student-based advocacy, an important best practice to positively impact drinking prevention.

The Course Hero study pointed to the importance of peer-to-peer support—still very important to college drinking prevention even as students find themselves socially distanced. While 77% indicated that they hadn’t turned to services like telehealth, tele-counseling, grief counseling or emergency services, 64% indicated they turned to friends, 45% to parents, and 30% to significant others for emotional support. These findings support the importance of peers as allies to help address issues related to alcohol and other substance abuse. 

It’s important to teach students to be good bystanders and to step up and reach out when they feel a friend may be struggling. This is especially critical now as students may be feeling more isolated and experiencing more anxiety than they were prior to the pandemic.

By empowering your students to be alert to signs that members of their network may be struggling and provide them with the tools and resources to lend their support, you can help minimize risk —and grow an even larger network of allies in the fight against alcohol misuse.

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