DiscoverCounselor Toolbox PodcastPreventing Addiction and Mental Health Issues in College Students
Preventing Addiction and Mental Health Issues in College Students

Preventing Addiction and Mental Health Issues in College Students

Update: 2020-08-221


Preventing Addiction and Mental Health Issues in College Students

Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes

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~ Review some of the unique triggers for co-occurring disorders in adolescents and college students

~ Identify current best practices for preventing those

~ Explore ways to enhance college student engagement in prevention and health promotion activities

College Student Issues

~ Almost half of college-age individuals had a psychiatric disorder in the past year which was not different between college-attending and their non-college attending peers.

~ Anxiety disorders 11.9% (& AUD in females)

~ Depression 9% / 6.7% Suicidal ideation / Tobacco & cannabis

~ ADHD 8%

~ ASDs 2%

~ Eating Disorders 10%

~ 35% to 45% of adolescent females report body image issues

~ Bipolar 3%

~ 47% of females and 62% of males had their first symptoms of schizophrenia before the age of 25 years

College Student Issues & Risks

~ Risk of alcohol use disorders was significantly greater for college students than their non-college attending peers

~ 20% meet criteria for alcohol use disorder

~ 44% binge drinks

~ Risk Factors for SUDs

~ Low self-efficacy

~ Lack of enjoyment in courses

~ Poor accommodation of special needs

~ Reliance on external validation

~ Having a low GPA

~ Experiencing a mental health issue

~ Sorority or fraternity involvement

College Student Issues & Risks

~ Risk of other drug misuse including opioids, benzodiazepines or stimulants 35%

~ Lack of identification or denial of mental health symptoms and/or lack of or inadequate treatment are common problems among college students

~ Students report they do not seek help because of limited time or worry about what others may think

~ The greater the depressive symptoms, the higher the risk of suicide HOWEVER there may be no difference on measures of everyday functioning

College Student Issues & Risks

~ Myths around stimulant use

~ Anecdotal evidence exists that stimulants are “performance enhancers”

~ A prevailing attitude, shared by many parents and physicians, is that the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants is benign

~ Nonmedical prescription stimulant users are more likely than other students to be heavy drinkers and users of other illicit drugs

~ Nonmedical users should be evaluated for ADHD

Issues Contributing to Distress

~ Psychosocial development

~ Separation from home/friends (homesickness)

~ Grief over family changes (room is now a den)

~ Need to establish new peers

~ Less enforced structure

~ Challenges to sleep hygiene

~ College work and “self-directedness” represent a significant change

~ Financial challenges

~ Taking on adult responsibilities (paying bills, cooking etc)

~ Breakups

Different Needs of Traditional & NonTraditional

~ Traditional students

~ Still dependent on parents

~ May have more scholarship opportunities

~ Study skills

~ Life Skills

~ Different biosocial developmental stages

~ Roommate difficulties

~ NonTraditional Students

~ May have children/families

~ May work part/full time

~ Self-confidence

~ Online Students

~ Circadian-related issues

~ Feelings of isolation

~ Difficult for Extroverts & Active learners

~ Less interactive = less instructor monitoring of comprehension

Suicide Prevention Interventions

~ Educate faculty, staff (janitors, residence life, counselors, food service, library, coaches)

~ Require students to take a health literacy / suicide prevention course

~ Reduce the stigma of seeking help

~ Make information and resources available in a culturally sensitive fashion both in person and online (posters, bathrooms, online…)

~ Promoting wellbeing in a holistic manner (individual and elements of their sociocultural environment)


~ Biopsychosocial factors conspire to limit the quantity of sleep for many adolescents resulting in a number of negative consequences

~ The suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus is the circadian timekeeper (biological clock)

~ Melatonin levels rise just before sleep onset.

~ In adolescence, the timing of melatonin release shifts to a later time, making it much harder for teenagers to fall asleep before about 10 pm

~ Self-reported sleep duration was positively correlated with bilateral hippocampal grey matter volume in the frontal and anterior cingulate cortex.

Causes of Lack of Sleep

~ Screen time, technology use

~ Social engagement in the evening

~ Early class times

~ Noise (especially in shared living quarters)

~ Poor time management

~ Difficulty transitioning to collegiate expectations

~ Stress

~ Homesickness

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

~ Sleepiness / Fatigue

~ Impaired learning

~ Reduced class attendance

~ Mood issues

~ Increased emotional dysregulation

~ Eating Disorders and OCD

~ Impaired immunity

~ Behavioral issues

~ Substance misuse (caffeine, nicotine, stimulants)

~ Obesity

~ Pain


~ There is no single EBP that has shown effectiveness

~ Later class starting times (8:30 )

~ Limited late-night activities (Close the student union at 10 on weekdays, dim dormitory hall lights at 9 on weekdays)

~ Health Education (Prevalence, Risks, Interventions) and Stigma Reduction

~ Integrative approaches to student health

~ Motivational Interviewing approaches have been shown to increase engagement with the college student population

~ FRAMES: Feedback, Responsibility, Advice, Menu, Empathy, Support

~ Reduce peer pressure and address campus-wide negative messages


~ Information about goal setting

~ Self-esteem enhancement messages (like what??)

~ Increase self-efficacy (tutoring, extracurriculars, mentoring)

~ Improving interpersonal skills and assertiveness

~ Improving stress tolerance and coping skills

~ Encourage daily pleasant activities

~ Educate students about learning styles to enhance classroom experience

~ Increase social support (group activities in classes, RH activities, clubs, campaigns (Random acts of kindness, Smile a day) Mental health first aid

~ Peer specialist facilitated online and f2f support groups

Technology and Prevention

~ Technology-based programs for screening and treatment have provide anonymity, accessibility and cost-effectiveness

~ 74 % of students acknowledged have received health information online, and more than 40 % frequently searched the Internet for health information


~ Universal Screening & Stepped-Care Model appeared to be a more cost-effective approach to university-based psychotherapy than wait-and-treat

~ As severity increases, the need for real time interaction increases

~ How to get participation???

~ Mental Health First Aid for Mental Health, Addiction and Eating Disorders

~ An 8-week Internet-based CBT program that included a moderated online discussion group (Student Bodies)

~ No participant with an elevated baseline BMI in the treatment group developed an ED, while the rates of ED development in the comparable BMI control group were 4.7% at one year and 11.9% at two years


~ Interactive, CBT based psychoeducational programming focusing on risk factors and dispelling myths

~ 9 EB Prevention programs

~ Key Issues with Technology

~ Can be a help or a hinderance

~ Mental health apps (meditation, CBT, Mood Cow)

~ Education about disinhibition and online safety in social media

~ Sites with active moderation and peer reviewed education


~ Most college students are away from home for the first time.

~ They have to quickly learn how to live alone, develop new friends, and adjust to collegiate life

~ A step-wise approach to prevention is recommended

~ Mandatory, universal education (online) that addresses risk factors

~ Universal screening (online or f/f)

~ Mental Health First Aid trained staff and faculty for identification and early intervention

~ Development of social support, efficacy and esteem

~ Availability of blended and f2f support and treatment services









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Preventing Addiction and Mental Health Issues in College Students

Preventing Addiction and Mental Health Issues in College Students

Charles Snipes