October 24, 2014  

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BASICS Program Designed to Curb Alcohol Abuse among College Students

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A referral-based program managed through the Department of Psychology at The University of Southern Mississippi is in its second year of helping students make wise choices about alcohol use.

The Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) program provides students at risk for developing a detectable alcohol use problem with information and strategies to protect themselves and others from the harmful effects of alcohol abuse. It is funded in part by a grant from the American Psychological Foundation and housed in the department’s Community Counseling and Assessment Clinic.

Students deemed at risk are referred to the program by campus agencies such as the Department of Residence Life, Dean of Students Office, Counseling Center, or participate by choice. They meet twice with a graduate student in counseling psychology, once for an intake session and then a follow-up session when feedback is presented to the student.

“It’s proven to be an excellent program, because it includes reflective exercises allowing students to recognize the negative consequences of drinking and how some of those ill effects can have a real impact on their college career,” said Brooks Moore, associate dean of students at Southern Miss .

Dr. Michael Madson, assistant professor of counseling psychology, is principal investigator of the project. His research examines effects of binge drinking among college-age students and the negative health and social consequences of that behavior.

“Our focus is harm reduction when it comes to alcohol consumption,” Madson said. “In the first session, we gather information from the student about his or her drinking habits and how it impacts their life,” Madson said. ‘In the second session, we provide feedback based on that information.”

The feedback includes an overview of strategies that can help the student protect themselves if they choose to consume alcohol. There is no “labeling” of the student based on the information they provide, and they are not obligated to take action based on the evaluation.

If based on the feedback students want further assistance addressing issues related to their alcohol consumption, BASICS counselors provide information about their options, including programs offered through the Counseling Center or in the Department of Psychology’s Community Counseling and Assessment Clinic.

National research figures show that more than 66 percent of college students across the U.S. engage in heavy episodic drinking at least once a month. On average, 1,700 college students age 18-24 die each year from unintentional alcohol-related injuries.

In addition, nearly 600,000 are unintentionally injured under the influence, and 97,000 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Academic consequences include missing class, low grades and dropping out.

A year after the program’s implementation, Madson sees its positive impact. “Our preliminary data show that we’ve raised awareness among students about the influence of alcohol in their lives, and how they can manage it while successfully pursuing their academic and career goals,” he said.

The program is also an opportunity, he added, to educate students about some of the misperceptions of drinking in college, including the notion that everyone does it and that it’s a normal part of self-exploration during undergraduate years.

“We can share with them information about drinking behaviors among college students, based on national research samples of drinking behaviors, which shows that in many cases not all students are choosing to drink,” Madson said. “But, they are impacted not only by fellow students who do drink but this perception that it’s an expected rite of passage in college.”

BASICS also benefits Southern Miss graduate students serving as program counselors with valuable training for careers in which they may encounter clients needing help overcoming problems with alcohol consumption.

For more information about BASICS, call Dr. Madson at 601.266.4546.