Engaging College Students in Treatment: Tips for Treatment Professionals

January 8, 2020
College Students Laughing in Library

For many students, going off to college is a time to try new things. Students often begin their educational journey by embarking on unique class subjects, participating in sports, living independently – and for many, consuming alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 37 percent of students participated in at least one round of binge drinking, consuming 4-5 drinks or more on one occasion in the past month. Additionally, 10 percent of students reported that they engaged in binge drinking five or more days a month. In another NIH study, tracking the habits of college students determined that women were more likely than men to exceed weekly consumption guidelines. This data suggests that drinking in college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher education experience.

This mindset can lead down a destructive path toward an Alcohol Use Disorder. Treatment professionals have the tools, however, to help students through assessment, treatment, and the recovery process.

The Dangers of Alcohol Use Disorder in College Students

The American Psychological Association describes Alcohol Use Disorder as a pattern of drinking that results in recurring adverse consequences. In college students, these consequences can significantly jeopardize their studies, relationships, careers, and their future.

Becky Georgi, Adjunct Associate, Duke University Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and owner/Clinical Director at Georgi Educational & Counseling Services, expands on the subject.

“I find that the first several weeks of the freshman year are an important but vulnerable time. Most students don’t recognize that the start can set the stage for the rest of the college experience. Too often, high-risk drinking begins early. These behaviors are often fueled by students’ misperception that “everyone drinks,” and getting drunk is the only way to have an active social life.” says Georgi.

Excessive alcohol use in an academic setting leads to a wide range of negative consequences, both short and long term.  “One in four college students face academic consequences from their drinking like missing class, falling behind, or doing poorly on exams. Unfortunately, these consequences often do not show up immediately. By the time the academic institution becomes aware of the students’ academic problems, an alcohol use disorder has already developed and become more severe.” Georgi explains.

Students who abuse alcohol also experience blackouts, alcohol poisoning, are more likely to participate in dangerous or risky behavior and increase their chances of being involved in sexual assaul either as the perpetrator or victim.

In the long term, these behaviors often add up to lost opportunities, both professional and educational, and impact the overall health and well-being of students and their future.

Top Tips for Treatment Professionals Working with College Students

As a treatment professional, Georgi says that the choice to pursue help is the most important thing someone can do. Each recovery journey begins by wanting to make a change, and utilizing this motivation can begin the process. From there, a treatment provider should do a thorough assessment to select the best methods to serve the college student. Alcohol Counseling, along with monitoring, increase success rates.

Remote Alcohol Monitoring

About 90 percent of alcohol users relapse in their recovery at least once over four years. That’s why providing a sustainable, long-term plan for recovery is crucial to a successful process for college students and beyond.

Remote alcohol monitoring can be crucial in a positive recovery. A remote monitoring system fosters accountability and can provide students with a robust support tool that’s always with them.

Georgi, who uses the Soberlink device for alcohol monitoring in her practice with young adults, discusses the success stories she’s seen as a result of the system. This comprehensive alcohol monitoring system uses facial recognition technology and delivers accurate results that are reported in real-time. Such feedback reinforces client success when each test is negative and can alert the treatment professional when it is positive, allowing for rapid intervention. “The emphasis on tracking success has lead many of my students to seek continued use of Soberlink well beyond the requirements set by the school or their parents. I have had students who have asked if they can continue to use the device when they go home or on trips during the summer because they find security in the use of the device as a daily reminder of their condition, which is huge.”

“[Soberlink] has been a very helpful tool for communication, accountability and structure, all of which are key elements for abstinence and recovery,” added Georgi.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy along with Alcohol Counseling

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is often combined with alcohol monitoring and alcohol counseling to achieve lasting sobriety. Treatment professionals walk clients through identifying their problematic behaviors, focusing on how they developed. Then, they delve into techniques to correct those behaviors.

To engage a college student, treatment providers might ask them to discuss the role alcohol plays in their life, encouraging them to consider how it is affecting their schoolwork, their relationships, and their future career. Once they are motivated to work toward what they want, they can be guided through ways to select healthier behaviors and manage their urge to drink. Some ways students harness motivation is through finding other peers who have the same sober goals, removing themselves from party atmospheres, or learning about their internal and external triggers. They also may find success in modeling other people in counseling who have found success in their recovery journey.

Support Groups

College students’ involvement in support groups such as Young People’s AA meetings can be a pivotal part of sustained remission. In the same vein, finding peer groups on a college campus such as Collegiate Recovery Programs can also be of assistance to someone in early recovery. The American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends at least nine hours of treatment each week, with a blend of group and one-on-one time with a treatment professional.

Fortunately, managing Alcohol Use Disorder with support groups can be approached in many ways, tailored specifically to the college and the student’s situation.

Some students need guidance as they attempt to seek support from various support groups. It can be intimidating to share about Alcohol Use Disorder with others, particularly when students may have never experienced a support group environment before. Exposing students to a variety of addiction support groups can be vital in helping students gain access to help.

Realizing that Alcohol Use Disorder is a serious problem with college students is the first step in assisting their recovery. Treatment professionals not currently using remote alcohol monitoring should consider implementing it into their practice as it could help revolutionize it. Learn more about the technology-assisted care that Soberlink provides.

About the Author

Soberlink supports accountability for sobriety through a comprehensive alcohol monitoring system. Combining a breathalyzer with wireless connectivity, the portable design and technology includes facial recognition, tamper detection and real-time reporting. Soberlink proves sobriety with reliability to foster trust and peace of mind.

Learn More About Soberlink

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