Alcohol use policy can be a model for others
A policy on alcohol use has been drafted by the St. Augustine Campus of The UWI for consideration by the Academic Board at its next meeting.
The policy is meant to “encourage personal responsibility and mutual respect in the consumption of alcoholic beverages on the Campus,” especially as existing legislation regulates the sale, but not the consumption of alcohol.
The genesis for this policy lay in the findings of a 2009 survey “Prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorders on The UWI St. Augustine Campus,” conducted by the Health Service Unit (HSU), which is headed by Dr Neil Singh.
“It has long been stated that UWI Students abuse alcohol, however no concrete data ever existed. The HSU embarked on an alcohol use disorder survey which involved the WHO’s AUDIT questionnaire as a screening tool to assess the prevalence of Alcohol Disorders among students at the St. Augustine Campus. Of the 1500 students sampled, 69% confessed to drinking regularly,” said Dr Singh.
Basically, the policy sets out 19 items to guide the use of alcohol on Campus premises. It includes recognition of the age of 18 as the drinking age, prohibits alcohol use in public spaces (unless permission is granted) and defines private spaces to include rooms on the halls of residence, the Campus Bar, the Senior Common Room and the Staff Social Club.
The policy, which was a collaborative effort between the Deputy Principal’s Office and the Health Service Unit, sets out other conditions for alcohol use and disciplinary measures.
Alcohol abuse is acknowledged to be a societal problem, and The UWI’s proactive position may provide guidelines for other institutions and organisations to follow.
The policy noted that students face academic and social challenges, “including and related to developing a sense of autonomy, coping with new freedoms, peer pressure and meeting academic expectations” which could lead to coping mechanisms such as drug exploitation.
The 2009 survey found a “69% prevalence of alcohol use” among undergraduates, with binge drinking (five or more drinks at one sitting) being reported by 38% of those polled. The survey also revealed that 25% of the polled students had an “alcohol use disorder; 26.8% were engaged in “hazardous alcohol use;” 7.8% displayed signs of being dependent and 12.8% showed signs of “harmful alcohol use.”
The Campus Administration took heed of the implications of these findings with regard to issues surrounding “health and safety, sexual behaviour, academic performance and overall quality of life.” Other considerations included the general safety of students, as alcohol abuse may lead to sexual and physical violence.
With the rapid expansion of The UWI’s student population – registered students in 2010 exceeded 17,000 – the burden of care and guidance has assumed greater proportions. The University examined the policies and guidelines of several tertiary education institutions globally to ensure that best practices would be emulated.
A programme of education on substance use and addiction will accompany the roll out of the policy.
“The Alcohol Survey and the Alcohol Use Policy are the initial components of a wider Alcohol Prevention Programme embarked on by the Health Service Unit,” said Dr Singh.
The final component of this programme involves the establishment of effective health education and outreach activities geared at heightening the awareness of the effects of alcohol use and abuse as well as encouraging responsible alcohol consumption on Campus.
“The HSU will also offer assistance to students who believe they may have a drinking problem ‘addiction.’ Students can have access to qualified counselors and if necessary, referrals to appropriate specialists,” said Dr Singh. “Substance abuse screening tools will be available online to assist students in identifying if they have a drinking problem and students will benefit from a number of outreach activities.”
Dr Singh said that the celebration of National Alcohol Screening Day on April 7, is the next major activity.
Reporting on a 2004 Harvard School of Public Health study conducted on 747 four‐year colleges in the United States, the expanded policy document noted the following:
- 34% have banned alcohol on campus for any student, regardless of age.
- 43 % of all schools prohibited alcohol in all campus residence halls.
- A total of 81 % of colleges offered at least some alcohol‐free dorms or floors.
- 44% of all colleges restricted alcohol use in at least some situations.
- 84 % of schools provided alcohol education for freshmen,
- 72 % for fraternity and sorority members, and
- 69 % for athletes.
- 49% of the colleges used educational initiatives and campaigns to address common misconceptions about alcohol use, thus aiming to reduce the student’s desire to drink.
- 90% of campuses offer counseling services to students experiencing alcohol abuse.
- 81 % of colleges employ an assigned substance abuse official.
- 61% have a task force to deal with substance abuse issues.
- 48% of schools liaise with communities to deal with alcohol abuse.