This spring, Stanford is announcing the start of several evidence-based, public health strategies and steps aimed at reducing alcohol and drug harm through an emphasis on prevention, early intervention, and recovery. These changes follow the release of the university’s most recent Alcohol and Other Drugs survey, which was distributed to all undergraduate students and explored topics including students’ self-reported prevalence of use.

“We administer this survey in order to understand over time the behaviors and patterns around alcohol and other drug use and to understand what attention is needed to reduce harms in our community.” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole said. “We understand alcohol is a part of many students’ experiences at Stanford, and we are committed to the health, safety, and wellbeing of every student and want to foster a living and learning environment that supports these objectives.”

The 2022 survey saw a response rate of 37 percent. And while rates of alcohol use among students remained largely the same compared to a similar survey in 2019, there was an increase in the number of students reporting high-risk behaviors such as drinking shots of hard alcohol and binge drinking.

Among respondents who consumed alcohol during the prior 30 days, 83 percent stated they drank shots of hard alcohol at least once during those 30 days. Additionally, among all survey respondents, 47 percent reported using marijuana and 16 percent reported misusing prescription drugs or using illicit substances at least once during the 12 months prior to taking the survey.

Next steps will include creating and growing programming that identifies students who are most in need of support and encourages students to seek help for themselves and their peers, which some students are already doing with peers.

According to the survey responses, the majority of students who reported drinking alcohol engaged in personal risk-mitigating behaviors while drinking, and half of all survey respondents reported trying to help other students who were drinking. For example, among respondents who drank during the prior 30 days, 45 percent set a limit on how many drinks they will have “most of the time” or “always,” and 48 percent of all survey respondents have encouraged someone to pace or limit their alcohol consumption.

“The foremost goal of our educational efforts is to equip 100 percent of students to employ risk-mitigating behaviors for themselves and in service to fellow students,” said Dr. Jim Jacobs, associate vice provost and executive director of Vaden Health Services.

Brubaker-Cole said national research into college student well-being supports ongoing and collaborative conversations with students about how their behavior might interfere with what they want to achieve at Stanford. Other research-based practices at Stanford will include routine screening for signs of moderate or severe alcohol and drug use for students at Vaden. In addition, in the coming year, VPSA will launch an Alcohol and Other Drugs professional staff working group, a faculty advisory group, and a student advisory group.

“The research makes clear the connection between high-risk drug and alcohol use and neurodevelopment, cognitive functioning, mental health, academic engagement, and other drug use and addiction,” said Brubaker-Cole. “While we know that the vast majority of Stanford students do not use illicit drugs, it is concerning that some are experimenting in ways that could negatively impact their well-being and academic success.”

VPSA also plans to provide students with resources about high-risk vs. responsible choices, the increased potency of cannabis, and the impact of alcohol on the brain and mental health. In addition, Brubaker-Cole said there would be an expansion of motivational interviewing – a form of collaborative conversations already in use in the Office of Substance Use Programs Education and Resources (SUPER). The non-judgmental conversations are designed to help students strengthen personal motivation for and commitment to a specific goal by eliciting and exploring the person’s own reasons for change.

“Not only do these high-risk behaviors such as taking shots, pre-gaming, and chugging affect you in the moment, research in recent years has shown that high-risk behavior and heavy drinking can lead to problems with learning and memory and adversely impact academic engagement,” Jacobs said.

Ultimately, Brubaker-Cole hopes the changes and ongoing conversations with new advisory groups next academic year will create a model in which students understand the risks and impacts of alcohol and drug use and have agency to create a safe environment for themselves and others.

“Everyone has a role to play, and our focus is and will always be on student wellbeing, with a core goal of promoting healthy and responsible choices and behavior,” she said.

If you are struggling with alcohol or other drugs, resources and support are available. Explore the many mental health and wellbeing programs offered at Stanford or learn more about Cardinal Recovery, Stanford’s collegiate recovery program.