Faculty and Staff Resources

How Can I Tell if a Student Has a Drinking Problem?

There may be no definitive way of being sure, but potential warning signs include:

  • Deterioration in work/academic performance, including increased tardiness, absences, or requests for extensions
  • Recurring alcohol-related legal problems, including trouble with campus authorities
  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing interpersonal problems that are caused or worsened by drinking
  • Mood changes such as temper flare-ups, irritability and defensiveness
  • Physical or mental indicators such as memory lapses, lack of personal hygiene, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, or slurred speech
  • Disclosure, by a student, that there might be a drinking problem

What Can I Do to Prevent Alcohol Related Problems?

Students often assume that heavy and frequent drinking in college is normal and acceptable. These assumptions contribute to the problem of alcohol misuse. By adopting some of the suggestions listed below, you can help to correct students' perceptions about drinking in college and create a healthier campus culture.

Avoid enabling the drinking behavior (e.g., accepting excuses, pushing back deadlines, and ignoring problems caused by drinking). Shielding a person from the drinking-related consequences indirectly allows them to continue drinking in problematic ways

Consider scheduling exams late in the week. This discourages students from starting the weekends early by drinking on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Make it clear that students' participation in class is important and that alcohol impairment in the classroom is unacceptable because it is not conducive to learning.

Consider assigning group projects. Working in groups is one way to enable students to build relationships outside the classroom without alcohol.

Avoid joking about heavy drinking. This normalizes risky drinking behavior and may appear to condone it.

What can I do to if I suspect a student is having an alcohol or drug problem?

Communicating with the student is the first step. You are not expected to take on the role of counselor, but you can identify a student who is showing signs of problems and then connect that student to on campus resources.

  • Choose a private space and a time to talk when neither of you is rushed.
  • Express your care and concern. "I'm concerned about you."
  • Describe in specific, nonjudgmental terms the behaviors or signs that concern you. "I'm concerned about you because I've noticed you haven't been to class in two weeks, and when you are here, you appear not to be focused."
  • Make a referral. "Many students find that talking with a professional at the Counseling Center, Campus Ministry, or Dean of Students is helpful." Let them know that using resources is a sign of strength and maturity.
  • Give the student the number to call for making an appointment with someone at the Counseling Center, Dean of Students, or Campus Ministry.
  • Follow-up. Check back with the student to see how things are going and if the referral was helpful.

When in doubt, you can always consult with a professional from the Office of the Dean of Students, Counseling Center, or Campus Ministry. They can help you determine how to help a student who may have a drinking problem.

Don't promise absolute confidentiality in all circumstances. If a student's drinking behavior threatens the safety of the student and/or community, notify the Office of the Dean of Students at 202-319-5619.