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How to Confront a Student at Risk

Most students are experiencing freedom and independence for the first time. With this freedom may come experimentation with alcohol and other drugs. Students may make high-risk drinking choices which put them at risk for alcohol-related impairment and health problems. The use of illicit substances is always high risk and dangerous. Students may not be able to recognize the potential dangers and consequences of their decisions.

Signs of Abuse

In order to offer assistance, it is necessary to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of an alcohol or other drug problem. It is important to remember that you are not expected to be an expert in this area, nor are you expected to be able to diagnose a student’s problem. The first step in helping a student is simply to recognize that a problem may exist. Some of the signs include the following:

  • Appearing under the influence during class
  • Smelling of alcohol during the day
  • Missed coursework or classes due to alcohol or other drug use
  • Preoccupation with alcohol and other drug use, which may be evident in conversation or course papers
  • Changes in academic performance
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Getting into fights or becoming aggressive while under the influence
  • Inability to control drinking; drinking more than intended; inability to have just one or two drinks
  • Increase in tolerance to alcohol use
  • Trouble with police or university officials because of alcohol or drug use
  • Expressed concern from others because of the usage
  • Blackouts (loss of memory) from alcohol or drug use
  • Drinking or drug usage as a main priority

Steps for Intervention

Intervention is a proactive method used to increase awareness of problem behaviors, prevent problems from becoming worse, and promote referral for further assessment and possible treatment. Intervention simply means meeting with a student and discussing your concern. The following are some tips for conducting an informal intervention:

  • Select a private location.
  • Let the student know that you are genuinely concerned.
  • Describe to the student the specific behaviors that have caused you to be concerned.
  • Speak to the student in an objective, unequivocal, nonjudgmental manner.
  • Have resource information ready to provide to the student (see Prevention and Treatment Locations).
  • Be prepared for the student to provide excuses, promise behavior change, attempt to redirect the conversation, or pass the problem off as no big deal.
  • If possible, offer to assist the student in making the contact to the appropriate office or program that deals with alcohol and/or drug abuse.

Remember that even if the student refuses your help, you are an important part of the process in helping him/her recognize that there is a problem. If you are uncomfortable intervening with the student yourself but would still like to help, you can contact any of the offices or services identified on this website.

  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Program
  • Center for Health and Well-Being
    Suites on Maple East, Suite G59
    901 Maple Street
    Indiana, PA 15705
  • Phone: 724-357-1265
  • Fax: 724-357-4457
  • Office Hours
  • Monday through Friday
  • 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
  • 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.