Faculty Spotlight: Recognizing Substance Use Among Students

marijuana-infographicAlcohol and drug use are significant concerns on college campuses nationwide. Alcohol is typically the substance of choice at many colleges, with many students engaging in binge drinking. College students have been shown to binge drink and be intoxicated more than their non-college peers. Additionally, the Washington State Legislature recently legalized marijuana in 2012, and it remains unclear how that will effect college students. One study, found that marijuana use has increased by 3% since its legalization among high school students in Washington. According to the Washington State Marijuana Impact Report, young adults (age 18-25) in Washington also have a higher rate of marijuana use compared to young adults nationwide. Furthermore, marijuana use among college students has been increasing over the past 10 years.


At SPU, there were 22 drug abuse violations and 59 liquor law violations in 2015, which is an increase from the previous two years. According to the SPU Biennial Review, approximately 25% of students living in traditional residence halls and 50% of students living in on-campus apartments report using alcohol. Additionally, approximately 19% of students living in traditional residence halls report experiencing a negative impact from their peers’ alcohol use.

There are many reasons for why a student is using substances. They may be using alcohol or drugs to attempt to cope with negative emotions and anxiety or to deal with the many stresses that accompany college life. Students may also report using substances to “relax” or “have fun.” Unfortunately, substance use can lead to many consequences for students, including academic problems, relationship loss, interpersonal violence or sexual assault, or even alcohol poisoning. Some of the signs of substance use among students are:

  1. A decline in class attendance, like tardiness or more frequent sickness
  2. A decline in school performance, like missed deadlines or not performing to typical level of ability
  3. Physical signs, like bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, poor hygiene, or sudden weight loss or gain
  4. Behavioral signs, like avoiding eye contact, fatigue, or hyperactivity
  5. Changes in mood, like depression, emotional instability, increase in anger or irritability

As faculty and staff, there are some simple things you can do if you have concerns about a student who you believe may be struggling with substance use:

  • Treat the problem seriously.
  • Broach the topic with permission.
    • Try saying: “Would it be okay if we talked about…” or “I may be wrong, but I’ve noticed…”
  • Express concern for the student.
    • Try saying: “I’m concerned about…”
  • Offer support and willingness to help.
  • Provide resources.

Want to learn more? The Wellness Initiative is hosting Seeing Double: Separating Substance Use Fact from Fiction – a one-day program on January 24th, 2017 that will provide students with information about alcohol and marijuana use.  Join us all day long to “Test Your Vision” in interactive activities, get your questions about alcohol and drug use answered from an expert panel, and learn the latest science behind alcohol and marijuana use at our evening keynote address.



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