college drinking

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 2, 2014

Substance abuse is not a new campus safety issue. However, the shape that challenge takes is always changing. This week we’re highlighting three stories about new trends in substance abuse that may very well suggest the challenges college administrators will face in the future.

Marijuana Vaporizers

Just as electronic cigarettes pose a new regulatory challenge, their cannabis cousins, vaporizers, pose an equal challenge to schools determined to curb drug use on campus. A vaporizer can be used to consume marijuana—it heats marijuana flowers or concentrates to around 350 degrees, not hot enough to burn but hot enough to vaporize the psychoactive chemical THC and produce a high every bit as potent as smoking from a joint or a pipe. These devices pose a unique problem for campus administrators. Vaporizers can be as small as a pen, and produce none of the tell-tale skunk-like odor associated with smoking marijuana. As a result, they are easy to use discreetly and hide. In fact, they are virtually indistinguishable from e-cigarettes. With the market for vaporizers growing at a pace usually associated with tech startups, colleges and universities trying to prevent students from getting high on campus will be hard-pressed to find a way to remove vaporizers from their grounds.

Powdered Alcohol

Similar problems are presented by the possibility of widely-available powdered alcohol, a concept that took one step closer to reality when the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued the federal approvals necessary for a product called Palcohol to be made and sold in the United States. While the TTB has since said that those approvals were issued “in error,” it’s not clear what that means for the future of Palcohol, and it’s possible that just-add-water margaritas and mojitos could still be coming soon to a liquor store near you, or your campus. Like vaporizers, powdered alcohol could pose a major challenge to schools determined to keep their campuses substance free—it’s not hard to imagine students sneaking small packets of powdered booze to school events in their pockets or bags and then adding them to the punch or water bottles. Powdered alcohol might pose other problems as well. It’s not yet clear what would happen if an intoxicated undergrad tried to snort a packet of Palcohol, or eat it straight, or add half the recommended amount of water, but preventing such scenarios might become a top priority for schools as soon as Palcohol can work out their differences with the TTB.

Heroin on Campus

While marijuana and alcohol are both well-known problems on college campuses (and the traditional focus of prevention programs), few schools consider hard drugs like heroin to be a major problem. Now, however, that’s starting to change, especially for schools located in areas where the use of heroin or other hard drugs is increasing in the larger population. Incidents such as the overdose death of a University of Rochester freshman are prompting administrators to begin expanding their prevention efforts to include hard drugs, a change one campus health center director has described as a “paradigm shift.”. New efforts include screening student patients for hard drug use and making resources available for addicts trying to beat an addiction.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, April 11, 2014

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks focused on content related to sexual violence and sexual violence prevention in recognition of the fact that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. However, as it happens April is also Alcohol Awareness Month, a topic which is, of course, highly relevant to our work here at CampusClarity. This week, we’re briefly shifting gears to highlight some stories related to that topic.

Alcohol Awareness Month

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month every year for the last 27 years with the intention of “reducing the stigma associated with alcoholism that too often prevents individuals and families from seeking help.” This year the NCADD has chosen a theme particularly relevant to higher education: “Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow.” That theme was chosen in order to draw attention to the detrimental effects of underage and college drinking, a problem which the NCADD says can be addressed at least in part through improved substance abuse education for students.

References to Alcohol in Pop Music Increase Teen Drinking

If you were worried after hearing that research found a quarter of the Top 40 hits from 2009 through 2011 referenced alcohol and glorified heavy drinking, another study justifies your concern. Researchers have found that, even after controlling for factors such as age and parental alcohol use, teens who professed a fondness for pop songs like LMFAO’s “Shots” (“Shots, shots, shots, shots everybody!”) were three times as likely to drink and twice as likely to binge drink when compared to peers who preferred more sober tunes.

Drunk People Can’t Guess Their BAC

Finally, we have this fun but relevant story from the website Cockeyed. By setting up a table on the streets of Sacramento on St. Patrick’s Day, challenging inebriated passersby to guess their own BACs, and then comparing their estimates to the more precise measurements of a Breathalyzer, Rob Cockerham confirmed what most of us probably already suspected: drunk people aren’t very good at estimating just how drunk they actually are.

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Do You Know Your Campus’s Sexual Assault Red Zones?
Posted by On Monday, November 11, 2013

Most schools concentrate their substance-abuse and sexual-violence prevention efforts during the first six weeks of the academic year, a period called the “red zone.”  First-year women are believed to be at the highest risk for sexual assault during these first six weeks because they are unfamiliar with college social life and thus vulnerable to sexual predators.

Though research does show that first-year women are at greater risk for sexual assault than other undergraduates, no studies (that we’re aware of) have shown that the first six weeks of school are the highest-risk period for them.

Researchers, however, have found evidence for other “red zones.” These red zones, researchers suggest, are particular to schools and are the result of local factors, such as rush periods, big games, or other important social events.

In a 2008 study, William Flack and his colleagues found that second-year women at one college were at a higher risk for sexual assault between the end of the first month of school and fall break.  Flack tentatively attributed this spike in risk to the fact that many second-year women were pledging local sororities before fall break. The high number of parties and heavier drinking during pledge week, Flack suggested, put the young women at greater risk for sexual assault.

Flack concluded: “Risk for unwanted sex associated with the academic calendar year may have more to do with the available range of types of social events in which students engage…the contexts within which those events take place, and the sometimes intense pressures on students to conform to campus social mores, than with students’ inexperience of college social life per se.”

Other research, meanwhile, has found that the risk of sexual victimization is evenly spread out across the school year (Fisher et al., 94-95).

Taken together, this research suggests that schools should consider spacing their prevention effects across the entire first year instead of frontloading prevention efforts in the first six weeks of school.

To determine the timing of the programming, administrators might identify major campus events that put students at greater risk for sexual violence or substance abuse and then schedule programming around those events.

Schools could also develop follow-up programming and re-orientations for students in their second, third, and fourth years. These follow ups could present students with new information that is more relevant to their experience — such as upcoming rush or pledge weeks — thus allowing students to continue a discussion that often seems to end after first-year orientation. After all, though women may be at a relatively lower risk of sexual assault later in their college careers, programming should be addressed to potential bystanders and perpetrators as well.

Indeed, spreading programming out isn’t just consistent with research about red zones, it’s also good pedagogy. Spacing any kind of practice across time (rather than massing it in one long event) promotes better long-term retention of material.

Sexual violence is not just a problem in the first six weeks of school and it’s not just a first year problem. All students are responsible for preventing sexual violence.

Further Reading

Fisher, B.S., Cullen, F.T., Turner, M.G. (1999) “Extent and Nature of the Sexual Victimization of College Women: A National-Level Analysis.” Washington, DC: Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

Flack, W.F., Jr., Caron, M.L., Leinen, S.J., et al. (2008) “‘The Red Zone’: Temporal Risk for Unwanted Sex Among College Students,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23, 1177-1196.

Kimble, M., Neacsiu, A.D., Flack, W.F., Jr. and Horner, J. “Risk of Unwanted Sex for College Women: Evidence for a Red Zone.” Journal of American College Health, 57, 331-337.

Thalheimer, Will. (2006) Spacing Learning Events Over Time: What the Research Says. Work-Learning Research, Inc. Accessed 18th November 2013 <>

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Court Rejects Ban on Alcohol Advertising in College Papers
Posted by On Friday, September 27, 2013

Until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision limited its reach, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s (ABC) regulations banned all college newspapers from running alcohol advertising. The ban is part of a comprehensive strategy aimed at reducing underage drinking.

Many colleges and universities take a similar “environmental” or “community-level” approach to combat high-risk drinking. These interventions often enlist retailers and advertisers as allies in prevention efforts. 

But in 2006 two college newspapers affected by the regulation, The University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily and Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Daily, sued the ABC, claiming the ban violated their First Amendment free speech rights.

The newspapers pointed out that a majority of their readership were over 21 (59-60% of the Collegiate Times‘ and 64% of The Cavalier Daily‘s readers). Therefore, while Virginia had a government interest in preventing underage drinking, the papers’ wide distribution to people over 21 meant that the scope of the regulation was too broad.

In its decision, the Court sided with the college newspapers, acknowledging the state’s interest but rejecting the regulation’s overbroad reach.

“While commercial speech is protected by the First Amendment, there is a ‘commonsense distinction’ between commercial speech and other varieties of speech…[therefore] a regulation of commercial speech will be upheld if (1) the regulated speech concerns lawful activity and is not misleading; (2) the regulation is supported by a substantial government interest; (3) the regulation directly advances that interest; and (4) the regulation is not more extensive than necessary to serve the government’s interest.”

Under this analysis, the Court concluded, “the challenged regulation fails…because it prohibits large numbers of adults who are 21 years of age or older from receiving truthful information about a product that they are legally allowed to consume…Accordingly, the challenged regulation is unconstitutionally overbroad.”

The court also rejected the ABC’s rejoinder that the regulation was justified by the state’s more general interest in combatting abusive drinking, whether by underage or of-age drinkers. The Court cited a previous case that determined “states may not ‘seek to remove a popular but disfavored product from the marketplace by prohibiting truthful, non-misleading advertisements.’”

The ruling, however, did not overturn the regulation itself. It only rejected the regulation as applied to these four-year college newspapers. As commentators have pointed out, where a paper’s underage readership is the majority of its readership, the ban might still apply. A paper at two-year college, for instance, might still be subject to the regulation.

Critics of the ban have lauded the decision as a victory for free speech. Indeed, because school papers operate under tight budgets, the ban had a significant impact on the papers’ finances and thus affected their primary mission of news reporting. According to estimates in The Cavalier Daily, lifting the prohibition would raise advertising revenue by 5 to 8%.

And while harm-reduction specialists may lament the loss of another valuable tool, the research is still divided on the effects of advertising on alcohol consumption. 

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