The Forum | Trusteeship

Experts Confront Campus Substance Use at #Everything2Gain

February 4, 2020 by Doug Sprei

“All of us know often at firsthand of everything that is lost because of the web of alcohol and drug abuse on campus. Our purpose is to explore strategies that work to address the problem comprehensively.” – ACTA President Michael Poliakoff

The morning panel at Everything to Gain, ACTA's conference on college drinking and drug use

Above: the morning panel at Everything To Gain, moderated by Deirdre Fernandes of The Boston Globe, with panelists (left to right) Joseph Lee, Robert DuPont, Ronald Daniels, and Shirley Collado.Flashback: Boston, Massachusetts, 11/18/2019. The Everything to Gain conference kicked off at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute through a partnership between ACTA, the Mary Christie Foundation, and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. ACTA president Michael Poliakoff’s opening remarks set this unique one-day symposium in motion for an audience of college trustees, presidents, senior administrators, and campus professionals focused on student well-being and academic success. 

“All of us know often at firsthand of everything that is lost because of the web of alcohol and drug abuse on campus. Our purpose is to explore strategies that work to address the problem comprehensively. It is our hope that today’s discussions will be the springboard to create campus cultures of vibrant learning and personal growth; campuses equipped for effective intervention, but even more important, campus communities where substance use has lost its allure.”

Following are a few of the many thought-provoking highlights from experts and higher education leaders who spoke at #Everything2Gain. We’ll share more content from the conference in coming weeks.

Amelia Arria, Ph.D., University of Maryland School of Public Health

“About two in five young adults have used marijuana in the past month. But today cannabis is much more potent than what the Surgeon General has recently called, ‘Your grandmother’s marijuana.’ … This change in potency, as a result of commercialization of cannabis, poses serious threats to student health. I probably don’t have to tell you that the misinformation around marijuana and its purported benefits is just proliferating. That’s a real challenge for all of us… 

“Taken together, substance use and untreated mental health problems can result in adverse neurocognitive motivational consequences, and then ultimately impede later adulthood functioning. Advances in neurobiological research and imaging of the brain have illuminated numerous ways in which excessive drinking and cannabis affect brain functioning. All of these effects have high relevance to college students who have to process large amounts of information and have high task demands.”

Joseph Lee, M.D., Medical Director for Hazelden Betty Ford’s Youth Services

“I want to touch on another aspect of technology, social media. When I was in college, it was Animal House, and that was celebrated. Kids don’t know what that movie is anymore. But the cultural normative stuff that we’ve been talking about today, that’s carried over. When kids are posting pictures on Instagram, they always take pictures before the party really gets going, so everybody looks really happy. They never take pictures at 4:00 in the morning when everyone’s throwing up in the bathroom, and couples have broken up, and there’s fights going on in the parking lot. They don’t take those pictures. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing…

“When you talk to college kids, they tend to overestimate what people actually use. What that begs is then the need for better risk stratification. Not all people are the same when it comes to using substances, and they assume that everybody would be impacted the same way. In America, 20% of Americans drink 80% of the alcohol in the country. 10% of Americans drink over half the alcohol and liquor in the entire country.”

Shirley Collado, President, Ithaca College

“There are students who we know from research have an increasing sense of isolation and loneliness because they’re curating their lives with their peers. I think, absolutely, we need to be paying attention to a population of students that have been coached, advised, consulted, protected by parents and by the very communities that they come from. Then they come to us, and this is where families are so critical… on so many levels, they’re suddenly managing the pressures of all that is college by simply not feeling, and not sitting in some of the messiness that is developmental and necessary in college.

“That’s a really important piece to pay attention to when we’re looking at what students are doing to go to extreme ways of, ‘Just take it all the way if I don’t like it, and get me to this place where I’m not feeling anything, with people who I wouldn’t have normally tapped as friends, but here I am, collectively, being a part of something and not sharing a sense of responsibility.’ We need to get back to that partnership of the importance of students and their families feeling just as responsible as the institutions that they attend.”

Robert DuPont, M.D., President, Institute for Behavioral Health

“The modern drug epidemic started in the late ’60s, and we’re still in it right now. It started with heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, and it’s now changed in very dramatic ways. One of the things that I think is very important for you to realize is what drives this problem is the money that is spent by drug users for the drugs.

“Illicit drug users in this country spend $150 billion a year for drugs. The total cost of treatment in this country is $34 billion a year. All the treatment, public and private. Drug users themselves, with one-fifth of the money they spend on drugs, could fund all of the treatment. The reality is virtually no money is spent by drug users for treatment; it’s somebody else’s responsibility. 94% of the people who are using drugs, who have substance use disorders, do not think they have a problem and do not want treatment. You need to think about that.”

Ron Daniels, President, Johns Hopkins University

“We’re also now recognizing that the students who are most likely to binge drink are students themselves who have been drunk or have started drinking at a fairly early stage in their life. We’re trying to get a discussion with parents going before the students get on a campus, which has continued on while they’re on campus. Trying to, at least right from the moment the students get on campus, to signal the concerns that we have about the pernicious role that alcohol and drug use has on their performance.

“And we’re trying to create a sense of responsibility on the part of fellow students to help intervene when they see a student in distress. That can be at a party when the student has drunk too much, or when you just see that these are students doing regular binge drinking, or missing classes, not turning up for events and so forth. Trying to see that there’s a collective responsibility on the part of non-affected students to weigh in and help the student who’s struggling with these issues understand the magnitude of them.

“It’s really interesting, as we’re trying to find our way into figuring out how to galvanize student engagement and resolve around this issue, one of the things we have found, at least at Hopkins that would be very powerful, was to appeal to those students who are not binging, but who are finding themselves in the middle of the night having to take care of a student who has. They end up finding that their class schedule is interrupted. Trying to give reinforcement to those students who are being thrust involuntarily into these care roles, which, again, are perverse and dysfunctional.”

To obtain full transcripts of the speeches and panels at #Everything2Gain, contact Doug Sprei at ACTA.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

Discover More