The Student Under the Influence
We are all aware of the toll that abuse of alcohol and other drugs can take on individuals, families, friends and colleagues. In a recent survey of college presidents, alcohol abuse was identified as the campus life issue of greatest concern. The costs are staggering – in terms of academic failure, sexual assault, vandalism and other consequences.
Warning Signals of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse
There are many signs of alcohol and other drug use, abuse, and addiction. None of these signs alone are conclusive proof of an alcohol or other drug problem. Other conditions could be responsible for unusual behavior such as an illness or reaction to a legally prescribed drug. Any one, or a combination, of these could be cause for alarm.
- Impairment of Mental Alertness
Lack of concentration, short-term memory loss, confusion, and inability to follow directions.
- Impairment of Mood
Depression, extreme mood swings, flat or unresponsive behavior, hyperactivity, nervousness.
- Impairment of Motor Behavior
Hand tremors, loss of balance, loss of coordination, staggering, inability to work normally, slurred speech, passing out from alcohol or other drug use.
- Impairment of Interpersonal Relationships
Detachment from or drastic change of social relationships, becoming a loner or becoming secretive, attempts to avoid friends or co-workers, loss of interest in appearance, change of friends, extreme change in interests or tendency to lose temper, becoming uncharacteristically argumentative or borrowing money without repaying.
- Violation of University Rules or Impairment of Academic and Work Performance
Inability to perform work assignments at usual level of competence; missed deadlines; missed appointments, classes or meetings; complaining of or feeling ill as an excuse for poor performance; coming to class, practice, or work intoxicated/high; legal or judicial problems associated with alcohol or other drug use. (Note: Some individuals with substance abuse problems are still able to function at very high levels of performance.)
- Getting a person to seek help may be a challenge. Here are a few hints:
Educate yourself about substance abuse. Confront the person while they are sober. A good time may be after a binge when they are sick. Show honest concern and patience (not anger).
It is helpful to:
- Assess safety (e.g., Can they drive home?)
- Accept and acknowledge feelings of student; give him/her a chance to air his/her feelings.
- Permit the student to say how s/he regards his/her problems; what s/he thinks his/her alternatives are, what s/he tried, etc.
- Explore further with the student, then support by recapping the strengths and resources of the student.
- After listening and obtaining information, bring the topic back to alcohol or other drug issues.
- Identify and clarify what the major issues are that s/he appears to have described.
- Repeat as simply as possible the main concern of the student regarding alcohol or other drug use.
- Be willing to admit limitation of your assistance and be ready to refer to specialists. In addition to the Counseling Center or Hall Mental Health Center, students can contact http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org/ (206-587-2838); or http://www.na.org
It is less helpful to:
- Convey judgment, shame, or criticism about the student’s substance use.