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Colloquium Addresses Collegiate Alcohol Use

July 14, 2014

The College’s Behavioral Health Counseling Program presented its second colloquium in late May, this time focusing on collegiate alcohol use. Robert Chapman, PhD, an associate clinical professor and the Associate Director of the Behavioral Health Counseling Department, delivered an informative and entertaining talk for attendees in the Geary Auditorium of the New College Building.

Chapman’s presentation addressed the question, “Is collegiate drinking the problem or is it the drinking ‘some’ collegians do that should be the dominant focus of concern?” After outlining the history of collegiate drinking and the critical moments when noticeable issues began to arise, Chapman discussed the formation of the National Institute on Alochol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the first report on collegiate drinking issued by the NIAAA in 1976, shortly after its inception. Per the report, this was the first time that collegiate drinking was truly put on the map of popular university issues that already included retention, attrition, and performance.

In 1989, the first national grassroots effort to bring higher education professionals together around prevention issues was born. For the first time, the term “binge drinking” was defined in reference to collegiate drinking in male and female students. The Harvard School of Public Health later became one of the first to take a good look at collegiate binge drinking in the 1990s. According to Chapman, students in Greek life organizations and athletics are members of the two collegiate groups most at risk for developing negative drinking behaviors.

Chapman explained that everyone in a university has a role to play when it comes to alcohol issues. However, collegiate drinking too often becomes a problem-focused approach. A better focus, according to Chapman, is to harness the approximately 80% of students who are engaging in safe behaviors rather than attack the roughly 20% who are not. He has also found key differences between first year college students and the rest of the college population. For first year students, “a good time” typically takes place in locations where they can find alcohol and attend parties. However, after examining third and fourth year students, Chapman saw a reduction in that response; they would rather pay more for better drinks as well as a better environment. He found that these more mature students see things a bit differently as compared to their first year counterparts.

The cycle, he says, starts much earlier than college. High school aged kids, as Chapman explained, come to college with expectations of what drinking and their social lives will be like. They then experience things for themselves and form a personal understanding. He called this the “Aging out Phenomenon.” Chapman proposes the use of cost/benefit analyses to help students change their behavior. In his prior positions, Chapman would have students look at whether the pros of drinking outweighed the cons. Students would then be able to decide for themselves whether or not engaging in negative drinking behaviors was smart and beneficial to them.

Chapman has worked professionally in the alcohol and other drug field for more than 35 years. From 1974 through 1988, he was involved in direct treatment, delivering individual and group counseling services, providing clinical supervision and conducting training consulting. From 1988 to 2006 he coordinated the Alcohol and Other Drug Program at LaSalle University, where he was associate faculty in the M.A. program in Clinical/Counseling Psychology, coordinating its addictions concentration. His areas of professional interest include motivational interviewing, brief alcohol screening, and intervention for college students; harm reduction strategies in the treatment of substance use disorders; and innovative ways to motivate student change.