Should Student Health Centers Screen for Substance Use?

Many college students have already consumed alcohol by the time they get to campus, but the environment has been shown to exacerbate issues like binge drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. As a result, college students have higher rates of alcohol use compared to peers their age, and high rates of drug use, the National Institute of Drug Abuse reports.

Yet, most student health centers do not routinely screen for alcohol or drug use, missing a critical opportunity to counsel students on the short- and long-term health risks of substance abuse, which can include a spectrum ranging from falling behind in class to death. 

Professor Sean Haley (Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy) and researchers from New York University wondered whether students — if given the opportunity — would share results from a self-administrated screening with their doctor. In a study published in the Journal of American College Health, the researchers enlisted 502 students from CUNY and NYU to fill out a questionnaire on a tablet available in the waiting room of their respective student health centers. Based on their answers, students received a “substance use risk score,” and could elect to share that information with their doctor.

Not only did the results show a high rate of substance usage among students (67.1 percent reported unhealthy alcohol use while 39 percent reported illicit drug use), but Haley and his team found that those with moderate to high usage were least likely to share their screening with a medical professional. Only 44 percent of participants felt comfortable making their screening available. 

The researchers concluded, “These findings support the integration of screening into university health services, but emphasize the importance of discussing confidentiality with students in college health care settings, as well as offering alternative sources of care for substance use, such as anonymous or off-campus services.” 

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Explore This Work
“Computer self-administered screening for substance use in university student health centers”

Work By
Sean Haley (Assistant Professor, Health Policy and Management) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy

Bonus Content
“Testing substance use self-screening at university health centers” (SPH News)

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