New Tool Helps Colleges Select Best Alcohol Prevention Programs for Their Needs

New Tool Helps Colleges Select Best Alcohol Prevention Programs for Their Needs- Join Together News Service from the Partnership for Drug-Free KidsA new online tool introduced this school year is helping colleges compare and choose interventions to address harmful and underage student drinking. CollegeAIM—the College Alcohol Intervention Matrix—helps administrators find programs that are effective and fit into their budget, says Jason Kilmer, PhD of the University of Washington, who helped to develop the resource.

CollegeAIM is the product of a multi-year collaboration with 16 college alcohol researchers with a range of expertise who developed and reviewed decades of scientific literature, and presents comprehensive and complicated information in a quick and convenient way through two accessible and easy-to-use matrices. It is also available in print form.

Dr. Kilmer spoke about CollegeAIM, developed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), at the recent Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) 26th National Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.

The need for a tool to help colleges combat college drinking is clear. According to NIAAA, underage drinking, as well as harmful drinking among students of legal drinking age, continues to be a major problem on U.S. campuses. Researchers estimate that each year 696,000 college students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, 97,000 students report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape and 1,825 students die from alcohol-related injuries.

Each program in the CollegeAIM database is rated in terms of effectiveness and level of cost.

“CollegeAIM lets colleges look at whether there is evidence the programs they are using are effective, and if not, what programs they can replace them with that are more effective and meet the needs of their students and campus,” said Dr. Kilmer, Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Assistant Director of Health & Wellness for Alcohol & Other Drug Education in the Division of Student Life. “They can also evaluate programs in terms of cost. In this financial climate, it allows schools to find a mix of strategies that are effective, while being mindful of budget realities.”

Colleges should have more than one strategy to address student drinking, targeting both individual students and the campus as a whole, Dr. Kilmer notes. Individual strategies focus on students such as freshmen, student athletes, members of Greek organizations and those who have violated alcohol policies. Environmental strategies focus on the campus community and student population as a whole, such as stricter enforcement of the legal drinking age.

Schools also need a mix of programs that reach out to students who don’t drink, those who drink but not dangerously, and those who drink excessively, he said. “We want students who don’t drink to know they are not alone, and feel supported in their decision not to drink,” he said. “For those who make the choice to drink, prevention efforts can play a part in reducing risky alcohol use. Some students do drink, but not excessively, and we need to include them in prevention efforts so their level of alcohol use doesn’t increase. If campuses only target those who drink most heavily, they are not reaching the abstainers or those who drink less frequently yet may nevertheless be experiencing some unwanted effects.”

NIAAA reviewed almost 60 programs for CollegeAIM. One example of a strategy the reviewers rated “higher effectiveness” is Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS). The program involves initial screening to identify high-risk drinkers, subsequent baseline assessment to generate personalized feedback, and then a one-on-one meeting with a trained facilitator to review the feedback with the student. Studies have found students participating in BASICS had a reduction in drinking and related consequences as much as four years later, compared with students who did not go through the program, Dr. Kilmer said.

Another program in the “higher effectiveness” category is Alcohol Skills Training Program (ASTP), for students at risk of developing alcohol use problems. The program provides information about addiction and offers exercises and training to help students identify personal drinking cues, develop alcohol refusal skills, and manage stress.

“CollegeAIM is a really exciting opportunity for campuses to approach alcohol prevention as strategically as possible,” Dr. Kilmer observed. “The intent is to continue to make this a living product, so more programs can be evaluated and added to the database.”