San Diego State University -- October 22, 2003

SDSU Receives $1.8 Million To Study Effectiveness Of College Alcohol Abuse Prevention Programs

Researchers to Evaluate Initiatives at Selected Universities Nationwide

Researchers at San Diego State University have received a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to study innovations in alcohol-problem prevention at SDSU and at other colleges across the country.

Specifically, SDSU substance abuse prevention experts will look at the effectiveness of “behavioral alternative” programs – efforts designed to steer students toward drug- and alcohol-free events and environments. Examples of these programs at SDSU include substance-free student housing and alcohol-free social events.

“Behavioral alternative programs are an understudied and under-evaluated element of campus substance abuse prevention efforts,” said James Lange, Ph.D, SDSU’s Coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Initiatives and lead researcher for this project. “Just like law enforcement initiatives and individual education and counseling, behavioral alternative programs are a key part of any comprehensive alcohol- and drug-prevention program. But we know little about these alternatives’ impact on alcohol or drug-related problems. This grant will help us better understand how this piece of the puzzle can fit most effectively into a broader prevention framework.”

The researchers will also look to understand how offering behavioral alternative programs affects student perceptions of the campus’ efforts to reduce substance abuse.

“Often the most high-profile alcohol- or drug-prevention efforts are punitive in nature, such as law enforcement stings or sweeps that result in people being arrested or fined,” Lange said. “If students understand that campuses are not just trying to ‘bust’ them but are implementing a number of programs aimed to ensure they have a safe environment for their learning and development, the students may be more receptive to the prevention messages and more supportive of the university’s prevention efforts.”
Lange, along with Social Work professor John Clapp, Ph.D., first will pilot-test methods for measuring the impact of SDSU’s behavioral alternative programs and investigate ways to maximize their benefits for students. Later the researchers will use the measurement tools they developed to evaluate the effectiveness of prevention programs at other selected campuses around the United States.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for SDSU to expand its leadership role in alcohol and drug prevention research,” Clapp said. “Often the NIAAA has researchers study or evaluate programs on their own campus. For this grant they will pair us with other colleges that don’t have their own substance abuse research experts, but do have interesting programs that are worth scientific study.”

The SDSU grant was one of five recently awarded to researchers across the nation under a new “rapid response” funding mechanism. The NIAAA picked researchers representing a diverse set of expertise within the college alcohol-abuse prevention field. The five grantees will serve as a resource for other universities who may be unable to conduct scientific evaluations of their own alcohol programs.

CONTACT: Jason Foster, SDSU Marketing & Communications
Phone (619) 594-2585 Pager (619) 620-1184,

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