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The Northerner

Harm reduction used to enforce dry campus

Joseph Szydlowski

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Northern Kentucky University has a zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol. Officers are told to arrest drunken students on sight, and drinking has always been prohibited on campus. In these regards, NKU seems like many other schools. But NKU differs in one major area. The university assumes that students will break its rules.

This controversial approach is based on the philosophy called Harm Reduction. Through harm reduction, several groups try to educate students on how to keep from hurting themselves and others while drinking, hoping to change these attitudes.

The philosophy centers on the idea that not everyone is ready to abstain from a vice. Thus, the philosophy holds that the best thing to do is to minimize the dangers associated with the behavior. For heroin users, not sharing needles is one approach. For sexually active people, it means using condoms.

Numerous approaches from this philosophy have been directed towards alcohol as well. But many disagree with the idea of harm reduction. Asa Hutchinson, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said in a 2001 speech in London that she finds harm reduction “sells people short, sells hope short.”

Some describe it as a Trojan horse for legalizing alcohol for minors. Others see harm reduction as encouraging alcohol use. Still others point out that abstinence is 100% effective at reducing the harms associated with alcohol.

Support on campus for the idea of harm reduction is strong even though, as NKU Counselor Karen Bolte admits, harm reduction is not effective at changing most students’ behaviors. Instead, treatment centers educate students on the dangers of alcohol, instead of scaring them into quitting.

“Education is the key to being able to make a good decision,” said Bolte. “I provide them with education, but they have to make the choice.”

NKU psychology professor, Dr.. Perilou Goddard, shares Bolte’s concern and philosophy. She notes that freshmen are the most vulnerable to the dangers of alcohol. Drinking to become very drunk, or binge-drinking, is most common among first-year students.

Many freshmen see getting completely wasted as cool and the ability to hold one’s liquor as a badge of honor. This, Bolte said, represents tolerance, a key indicator of alcoholism. For them, and many parents,

drinking is almost a right of passage.

Some believe that making alcohol legal for 18-year-olds may help alleviate this problem. Goddard is torn on the idea of lowering the drinking age. She admits that evidence exists proving that raising the drinking age lowers DUIs. But that causes other concerns.

One reason why freshmen drink so irresponsibly, she proposed, is because it is driven underground. She noted that in public areas, such as restaurants, few drink to become drunk.

She fears that because students do not drink in these open environments with mature adults, they have to learn to control themselves on their own.

No one, she remarked, teaches freshmen how to enjoy drinking without getting drunk. Instead, students have to find out on their own.

Goddard knows that although NKU fully supports the program and many others, some people believe that anything that does not condemn alcohol use condones it. These people say just don’t drink.

“Just say no’ doesn’t work,” Goddard said.

Bolte agreed, noting that if students hear abstinence, they stop listening. Her work, based entirely on research, is to do whatever she can to prevent the problems associated with alcohol, such as alcohol poisoning

and DUI deaths.

NKU’s Department of Public Safety has seen fights, sexual assault, general disorder and disorderly conduct come from drunken students. “When people are under the influence of alcohol, they do things they wouldn’t dream of otherwise,” said Lt.. Col. Jeff Martin of DPS.

Each year 600,000 students are assaulted by someone under the influence, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The American Council on Drug Education reports that nine out of every 10 college rapes occur while either the rapist or victim is under the influence.

Martin views alcohol as NKU’s “worst public order problem,” and said that drinking “shouldn’t be here.”

Goddard notes that NKU’s policy as a dry campus extends not only to students but to faculty as well. But this does not stop drinking here, nor at any other dry campus at which she has worked.

However, she added that most students outgrow the habit of binge drinking.

“I see a difference between the freshmen of my drug policy class and the seniors regarding alcohol,” Goddard said.

But some students are not so fortunate. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, 31 percent of college students showed the signs of alcohol abuse. Though most abuse alcohol for a variety of reasons, ranging from trying to fit in to coping with stress.

Some drink merely for pleasure and some keep abusing it. They begin to abuse it more often, joining the 6 percent of college students who are alcohol dependent. Bolte remarked that they start to show signs of alcoholism, including tolerance, loss of appetite and weight, school and work problems and depression. Despite the destruction wreaked by alcohol in their personal lives, alcoholics keep drinking, usually to avoid the painful withdrawal.

NKU’s counseling services cannot treat those who have become afflicted with this disease, but Bolte does offer guidance.

She offers the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory, or S.A.S.S.I., a test that gauges a student’s drinking habits, and compares them to those of the student’s peers. It shows exactly how normal, or in the case of alcoholics, how abnormal their drinking habits are, a very difficult task for drinkers to find out on their own.

“They’re getting a very biased view by hanging out with other drinkers,” Goddard said.

Goddard feels the S.A.S.S.I. method would probably work best. And, for Bolte, it has had some emotional results, causing one student to burst into tears when she found out how abnormal her drinking was.

Most of Bolte’s work is directed toward alcohol abusers by using Harm Reduction. One of her harm reduction programs, called Choices, centers on teaching students how to drink responsibly rather than riskily. It presents ideas and sound facts to students, such as the blood alcohol level per number of drinks a student has had, allowing them to make smart choices when they drink.

But, ultimately, what transpires is out of her hands.

She still has to remind underage participants throughout the exercise that drinking is illegal.

Bolte presents another program to all University 101 students. Named Alcohol Awareness, it follows the same idea as Choices, but uses different methods. Bolte takes the class to the computer labs where they use the program Alcohol 101+ to go through and make decisions about drinking by placing them in various situations. Some students, she said, find it very interesting. Others, however, don’t. One described its boredom being nearly indistinguishable from class. Another did not even remember the hair color of the presenter.

But Bolte is not the only one using the idea of harm reduction to teach students about drinking. Goddard has gone to the University 101 classes, giving them her own lesson about drinking. In that, she focuses on giving students ideas on how to drink safely. Goddard also has students give large group presentations about the risks of alcohol and how to reduce them.

DPS also presents its own form of harm reduction, but it’s far more intimidating.

One method has officers give a warning to both parents and students during freshman orientation.

Their goal, as Martin pointed out, is to teach incoming students and their parents a very simple lesson about getting caught with alcohol and its consequences: “If you screw up, this is what will happen.”

Other less threa
tening methods include a DUI car where students navigate a golf cart through a simple series of cones. The catch, however, is that they have to wear beer goggles that depict levels of intoxication. Few students succeed.

Martin also mentioned that DPS gives a rape assault defense class, teaching women to fight off would be attackers or rapists, hoping to prevent some of the rapes or sexual assaults that occur while a person is under the influence. However, DPS’s main method of eliminating alcohol abuse on campus is through eliminating alcohol on campus. DPS trains its officers to deal with alcohol-related incidents such as drunk driving, a crime that 2.1 million students committed last year across the United States.

Martin doesn’t consider alcohol a problem, though, if used responsibly.

Describing the many ramifications he has seen over his 30 year career as a police officer, Martin said, “I’m not opposed to it as a matter of principle. I’m opposed to it because of what I’ve seen.”

“Drinking is more fun when you limit yourself,” Goddard said.

Northern Kentucky University has a zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol. Officers are told to arrest drunken students on sight, and drinking has always been prohibited on campus. In these regards, NKU seems like many other schools. But NKU differs in one major area. The university assumes that students will break its rules.

This controversial approach is based on the philosophy called Harm Reduction. Through harm reduction, several groups try to educate students on how to keep from hurting themselves and others while drinking, hoping to change these attitudes.

The philosophy centers on the idea that not everyone is ready to abstain from a vice. Thus, the philosophy holds that the best thing to do is to minimize the dangers associated with the behavior. For heroin users, not sharing needles is one approach. For sexually active people, it means using condoms.

Numerous approaches from this philosophy have been directed towards alcohol as well. But many disagree with the idea of harm reduction. Asa Hutchinson, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said in a 2001 speech in London that she finds harm reduction “sells people short, sells hope short.”

Some describe it as a Trojan horse for legalizing alcohol for minors. Others see harm reduction as encouraging alcohol use. Still others point out that abstinence is 100% effective at reducing the harms associated with alcohol.

Support on campus for the idea of harm reduction is strong even though, as NKU Counselor Karen Bolte admits, harm reduction is not effective at changing most students’ behaviors. Instead, treatment centers educate students on the dangers of alcohol, instead of scaring them into quitting.

“Education is the key to being able to make a good decision,” said Bolte. “I provide them with education, but they have to make the choice.”

NKU psychology professor, Dr.. Perilou Goddard, shares Bolte’s concern and philosophy. She notes that freshmen are the most vulnerable to the dangers of alcohol. Drinking to become very drunk, or binge-drinking, is most common among first-year students.

Many freshmen see getting completely wasted as cool and the ability to hold one’s liquor as a badge of honor. This, Bolte said, represents tolerance, a key indicator of alcoholism. For them, and many parents, drinking is almost a right of passage.

Some believe that making alcohol legal for 18-year-olds may help alleviate this problem. Goddard is torn on the idea of lowering the drinking age. She admits that evidence exists proving that raising the drinking age lowers DUIs. But that causes other concerns.

One reason why freshmen drink so irresponsibly, she proposed, is because it is driven underground. She noted that in public areas, such as restaurants, few drink to become drunk.

She fears that because students do not drink in these open environments with mature adults, they have to learn to control themselves on their own.

No one, she remarked, teaches freshmen how to enjoy drinking without getting drunk. Instead, students have to find out on their own.

Goddard knows that although NKU fully supports the program and many others, some people believe that anything that does not condemn alcohol use condones it. These people say just don’t drink.

“‘Just say no’ doesn’t work,” Goddard said.

Bolte agreed, noting that if students hear abstinence, they stop listening. Her work, based entirely on research, is to do whatever she can to prevent the problems associated with alcohol, such as alcohol poisoning and DUI deaths.

NKU’s Department of Public Safety has seen fights, sexual assault, general disorder and disorderly conduct come from drunken students. “When people are under the influence of alcohol, they do things they wouldn’t dream of otherwise,” said Lt.. Col. Jeff Martin of DPS.

Each year 600,000 students are assaulted by someone under the influence, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The American Council on Drug Education reports that nine out of every 10 college rapes occur while either the rapist or victim is under the influence.

Martin views alcohol as NKU’s “worst public order problem,” and said that drinking “shouldn’t be here.”

Goddard notes that NKU’s policy as a dry campus extends not only to students but to faculty as well. But this does not stop drinking here, nor at any other dry campus at which she has worked.

However, she added that most students outgrow the habit of binge drinking.

“I see a difference between the freshmen of my drug policy class and the seniors regarding alcohol,” Goddard said.

But some students are not so fortunate. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, 31 percent of college students showed the signs of alcohol abuse. Though most abuse alcohol for a variety of reasons, ranging from trying to fit in to coping with stress.

Some drink merely for pleasure and some keep abusing it. They begin to abuse it more often, joining the 6 percent of college students who are alcohol dependent. Bolte remarked that they start to show signs of alcoholism, including tolerance, loss of appetite and weight, school and work problems and depression. Despite the destruction wreaked by alcohol in their personal lives, alcoholics keep drinking, usually to avoid the painful withdrawal.

NKU’s counseling services cannot treat those who have become afflicted with this disease, but Bolte does offer guidance.

She offers the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory, or S.A.S.S.I., a test that gauges a student’s drinking habits, and compares them to those of the student’s peers. It shows exactly how normal, or in the case of alcoholics, how abnormal their drinking habits are, a very difficult task for drinkers to find out on their own.

“They’re getting a very biased view by hanging out with other drinkers,” Goddard said.

Goddard feels the S.A.S.S.I. method would probably work best. And, for Bolte, it has had some emotional results, causing one student to burst into tears when she found out how abnormal her drinking was.

Most of Bolte’s work is directed toward alcohol abusers by using Harm Reduction. One of her harm reduction programs, called Choices, centers on teaching students how to drink responsibly rather than riskily. It presents ideas and sound facts to students, such as the blood alcohol level per number of drinks a student has had, allowing them to make smart choices when they drink.

But, ultimately, what transpires is out of her hands.

She still has to remind underage participants throughout the exercise that drinking is illegal.

Bolte presents another program to all University 101 students. Named Alcohol Awareness, it follows the same idea as Choices, but uses different methods. Bolte takes the class to the computer labs where they use the program Alcohol 101+ to go through and make decisions about drinking by placing
them in various situations. Some students, she said, find it very interesting. Others, however, don’t. One described its boredom being nearly indistinguishable from class. Another did not even remember the hair color of the presenter.

But Bolte is not the only one using the idea of harm reduction to teach students about drinking. Goddard has gone to the University 101 classes, giving them her own lesson about drinking. In that, she focuses on giving students ideas on how to drink safely. Goddard also has students give large group presentations about the risks of alcohol and how to reduce them.

DPS also presents its own form of harm reduction, but it’s far more intimidating.

One method has officers give a warning to both parents and students during freshman orientation.

Their goal, as Martin pointed out, is to teach incoming students and their parents a very simple lesson about getting caught with alcohol and its consequences: “If you screw up, this is what will happen.”

Other less threatening methods include a DUI car where students navigate a golf cart through a simple series of cones. The catch, however, is that they have to wear beer goggles that depict levels of intoxication. Few students succeed.

Martin also mentioned that DPS gives a rape assault defense class, teaching women to fight off would be attackers or rapists, hoping to prevent some of the rapes or sexual assaults that occur while a person is under the influence. However, DPS’s main method of eliminating alcohol abuse on campus is through eliminating alcohol on campus. DPS trains its officers to deal with alcohol-related incidents such as drunk driving, a crime that 2.1 million students committed last year across the United States.

Martin doesn’t consider alcohol a problem, though, if used responsibly.

Describing the many ramifications he has seen over his 30 year career as a police officer, Martin said, “I’m not opposed to it as a matter of principle. I’m opposed to it because of what I’ve seen.”

“Drinking is more fun when you limit yourself,” Goddard said.

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The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.
Harm reduction used to enforce dry campus