Health Promotion and Wellness launches campaign to dispel student substance use misconceptions


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Searle Hall is home to Health Promotion and Wellness, which is rolling out a campaign that will last until mid-April. The campaign was created to combat misconceptions about student substance use.

Julia Doran, Reporter

Health Promotion and Wellness is rolling out a social norms campaign geared toward freshmen to address misconceptions about alcohol and other drug use on campus.

The campaign features seven posters — two of which have already been released — containing freshmen response data from AlcoholEdu, a mandatory online Essential NU, said Kevin Meier, coordinator of alcohol and other drug education and outreach within Health Promotion and Wellness.

Meier, who is leading the initiative, said the campaign, which will run until the middle of April, is an effort to dispel students’ inaccurate assumptions about their peers’ drug use behavior and help reassure students in their personal decisions.

“Prior to starting at Northwestern, most students come in with very healthy behavioral intentions,” he said. “In fact, just over one-third of our incoming students choose not to drink.”

He said despite these positive intentions, the common portrayal in media and pop culture of excessive substance use in college combined with the social pressure of the college environment can strongly influence student behavior.

Using AlcoholEdu data, Meier said he and and his team have paid particular attention to the freshman “conversion rate,” a measure of change in alcohol and drug consumption that occurs within the first six weeks of school.

“After the six-week mark, we see that over one-third of students are consuming in a high-risk fashion,” he said.

Meier said this statistic has been fairly consistent for the past few years, serving as one of the main incentives to launch the campaign.

Lisa Currie, director of Health Promotion and Wellness, said the campaign will help students rearrange and challenge their thinking about the faulty messages they have received since childhood.

Misperceptions about substance use result from the tendency to focus on very visible, harmful behavior as opposed to the safe, yet less noteworthy behavior of the majority, she said.

“We create this perception that college is about work hard, play hard — that those are the extremes,” she said. “We don’t care about all the middle ground in between where most people actually live their lives.”

Currie said the next step in this project is the Core Survey, a questionnaire that will be emailed to a randomly selected sample of undergraduate and graduate students next week.

“The survey will help us better understand both the behavior and attitudes students possess regarding alcohol and drugs, and we’ll be able to use that to support this campaign in the future and target a wider array of students as well,” she said.

Patricia Hilkert, director of New Student and Family Programs, said her department is working to integrate the message of the social norms campaign into the ENUs.

She said this year’s AlcoholEdu was adapted to be more conversational, and peer advisers used information included in the social norms campaign as a starting point in their discussions of alcohol and drug use on campus.

“We are going to work even more to change the ENU for next year to incorporate more of that into it,” she said.

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