Substance abuse: a concern for all of us
The use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs is a major national concern, a concern throughout the State of Maine and a prominent concern here at the University of Maine and colleges and universities across the country. The abusive use of alcohol and the use of illegal drugs are dangerous for individual students and corrosive to the learning environment we value so highly here in Orono. When people begin exploring who they are and what they want to accomplish in the world, they are exposed to a good deal of anxiety and a culture that encourages solving problems by seeking simple solutions. One simple solution to all the complexities college students face is substance use. In fact, it’s encouraged across the internet, in memes, in alcohol and drug advertising and in a culture where substance abuse and overuse are conflated with “this is just the way we live.” With thoughtful consideration, however, students understand very quickly that using alcohol or other drugs to take care of life’s problems to make themselves feel better or to help them fit in is not an effective long-term solution.
Helping students develop a durable set of life skills such as good problem-solving skills, appropriate decision-making skills, assertion skills and so forth is a forward step in helping them avoid using substances to take care of real-life issues. These sorts of programs are administered in residence halls, Greek houses and the Memorial Union throughout the year. All our students can get exposed to these programs and we hope for our students to live in this community in a way that maintains a good and healthy living environment where each member of the community can study, learn and grow unimpeded by the negative effects of someone’s substance abuse. We have clear policies on the illegal, dangerous or inappropriate use of substances and we do not tolerate these behaviors. Students who violate these policies are educated by our Substance Abuse Prevention staff, sometimes they visit with the dean of students and if a student violates our code of conduct repeatedly around issues of substance use then parents are notified. Continued substance use problems, selling drugs and other behaviors like these can result in suspension, which is an outcome we want to avoid at all costs.
At UMaine we have an active Student Wellness Resource Center, a fully involved and positively oriented community policing department, peer educators, a highly qualified counseling and health professions staff and many other professionals all committed to making the student experience here fulfilling, valuable and safe.
We want students to grow and change here; our expectation is that they will do this on their own two feet while avoiding the dangerous use of substances. As we all pull together in pursuit of this desired outcome, UMaine students are working diligently to become successful members of a college community and avoiding the pitfalls of using too much of any substance too often is key to this success.
Effectively addressing substance use before it becomes a substance abuse problem requires a variety of different approaches:
- We can engage, at any opportunity, an open and frank discussion with each other and trusted loved ones, friends, parents, faculty, advisors and counselors about things that are bothering us, about fitting in, about successfully managing our lives, our experiences and our adjustment in the world.
- All of us working together to achieve balance will make the likelihood of a successful college experience highly likely. Too much of anything over time can hurt us, so moderation is a key we can all live by. If someone thinks “Maybe I’m spending too much time partying, or I’m getting too wasted, or I’m in trouble” then that’s a sign that talking to someone – confidentially – is a solution to use.
- Seek out reasonable alternatives to alcohol or other drug use when feeling stressed, lonely, anxious or depressed. Find someone to talk to, get some exercise, join a campus group or get out in nature. These are simple and available solutions that will make students stronger and more involved in the long run.
- Practice harm reduction if using substances: use designated drivers, don’t mix substances, be aware of each other and whether someone is in trouble and needs help; if they do call 911 immediately. If something seems to be not right, say something to someone who can help. UMPD and UVAC carry Naloxone – an opiate reversing drug – and calling quickly might save someone’s life.
- The Student Wellness Resource Center, led by Kevin Hudson, is reviewing and considering harm reduction approaches on campus which might use, for example, Naloxone and Fentanyl Test Strips, which detect the presence of this lethal drug in other substances, and they welcome community input as these programs develop and launch.
- If you have questions about substance use, you can get help by calling our Student Wellness Resource Center, 581-1423, the Counseling Center at 581-1392 or the Cutler Health Center at 581-4000 to talk to staff members there.
- The National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Helpline is a great resource for information. They can be reached at 1-800-662-4357.
This list is just a start and I encourage all of us to develop our own list as we consider substances in our lives and our community.