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UI alcohol-reduction plan proactive, based on research

BY SUSAN ASSOULINE - GUEST OPINION | DECEMBER 14, 2010 7:10 AM

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I appreciate this opportunity to reframe The Daily Iowan Editorial Board's view that the Alcohol Harm Reduction plan is "naïve." I see it as positive, proactive, and based in sound research on alcohol-harm reduction and student success.

The plan is multipronged (four goals related to ensuring student success) and comprehensive (39 tactics implemented over three years) and addresses the high-risk drinking reported by University of Iowa students. The Alcohol Harm Reduction Advisory Committee was guided by the best data available, which is important because data often disprove our intuitions.

The Editorial Board argues that it is "flawed and naïve" to believe that sophomores will complete the sophomore health-risk assessment. However, 32.5 percent of sophomores have already completed it. The Editorial Board doubts the effectiveness of AlcoholEdu. The facts refute this doubt:

AlcoholEdu participants report that the program helped them develop a plan for responsible alcohol use; in addition, fewer AlcoholEdu students reported blackouts, hangovers, or ETC transports than previous non-AlcoholEdu freshman cohorts. This is one of the reasons AlcoholEdu was expanded to include all incoming students under 21.

The data on alcohol harm at the UI are disturbing: Seven out of 10 college students report having engaged in high-risk drinking in the previous two weeks. That is more than double the reports (three out of 10) at the national level. We remain optimistic (not Pollyannaish) that the UI and Iowa City community can work together to achieve the relatively modest goal of reducing the binge drinking rates from 70 percent to 55 percent.

How will this happen? The broad-based committee, convened by Vice President for Student Services Tom Rocklin and composed of faculty, staff, and students, takes seriously the vice president's charge to provide an annual update to his office. We have excellent momentum from the involvement of the various committee members — especially the students who provided important insight into student life. We will translate this momentum into support for the students and offices responsible for implementing the tactics.

This plan is not only workable, it is flexible. There is a strong focus on training and education. For example, tactics for goal two (more students remain low-risk drinkers) include:

• Implement parent-student education at orientation;

• Expand the living-learning communities;

• Increase participation in activities that have lower rates of binge drinking.

For goal three (more high-risk drinkers lower their drinking), one approach is to implement a media campaign educating students on saving friends from toxic drinking. Another tactic for goal three is to train residence-hall coordinators in the use of Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students, a motivationally focused interview technique. If there is evidence that something is not working, we will change our approach. That's the beauty of not having a silver-bullet strategy.

Last month, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism released a report that captures our optimistic, yet realistic, perspective:

"Student drinking is amenable to a combination of well-chosen, evidence-based universal prevention strategies … The greatest reductions [in high-risk drinking] were found at universities with the highest intensity of intervention implementation, achieved through heavy publicity and highly visible enforcement activities."

We appreciate the kind of publicity provided by the well-researched and informative Dec. 7 DI metro article on the unveiling of the plan. UI students deserve inspired dedication to ensuring their safety and success, and we want to work together to achieve these goals.

The debates are over; let's get to work.

Susan Assouline is a UI professor in the College of Education and the chairwoman of the Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee.


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