A Better Approach to Alcohol Prevention for College Students

Alcohol and other drugs are a threat to campus health and safety. To help combat the issue, colleges often incorporate online alcohol prevention programs for their first-year college students. However, research suggests that these programs are not leading to lasting behavior change. Here’s a look at why these programs are falling short, and how Kognito’s newest simulation fills these critical gaps to bring a more engaging, relevant solution to campuses throughout the country.

The problem with current alcohol prevention programs for college students

Alcohol prevention programs for college students often share a lot of information, but that information doesn’t result in change. Here are a few reasons they fall short.

Their effectiveness is short-lived

One evaluation, supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), found that a popular alcohol prevention program successful reduced alcohol problems, but that the success was short-lived. In fact, its effects didn’t even last the entire academic year: alcohol problems were only reduced among first-year college students and only during the fall semester.

They share information but don’t change behavior

Traditional alcohol prevention programs for college students focus on sharing information, such as how many drinks are considered excessive for men and women, underage drinking laws, etc. While that information can be helpful, research shows that it doesn’t lead to behavior change.

Evaluations of existing programs are mixed, but an analysis of current research found that “Even though respondents universally reported an increase in alcohol-related knowledge, there was an evident disconnect between this knowledge and their actual behavior.”

This conclusion was repeated in a qualitative study of students from three universities who completed a popular alcohol prevention program, who said they did not expect the course to impact their behavior relating to alcohol.

They don’t allow students to practice or apply skills

The same analysis of existing research found that students often ignore portions of alcohol prevention programs completely — clicking through assessments just to complete the task.

Students are not engaged in this “click-through” training, and there’s a critical gap for students who are not given the opportunity to practice or apply skills. Students need to be engaged in order to learn.

They don’t resonate with students

Another reason college students are often disengaged in alcohol prevention programs is that they are perceived as irrelevant. They miss the mark when it comes to portraying realistic scenarios that students can relate to, as students in a focus group revealed:

“…it seemed a bit too cheesy so I really didn’t care for it.”

“I think there needs to be more of like a middle and more of a realistic portrayal of how it actually works.”

“I just felt like the scenarios depicted were really unrealistic.”

Why we created the Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse Prevention simulation

Our newest simulation, Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse Prevention, joins our suite of evidence-based campus prevention solutions. These existing simulations, which address psychological distress, have significantly increased college students’ mental health skills, peer referrals, and self-referrals, and we knew that the power of interacting with virtual humans could help fill some of the gaps in current alcohol prevention programs for college students.

After seeing what was missing in current solutions on the market, we worked with leading public health prevention specialists, campus wellness professionals, and real students to create a more relevant, evidence-based campus alcohol prevention solution that uses the power of simulation to engage students in a whole new way.

How it’s different from other alcohol prevention programs for college students

Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse Prevention goes beyond compliance to set students up for success. This interactive simulation:

  • Meets students where they are: Designed to engage non-drinkers, light to moderate drinkers, and frequent drinkers with customized messaging
  • Uses evidence-based practices: The program incorporates evidence-based prevention methods including social norming, bystander skills, and values and goal-setting
  • Includes experiential practice: Three interactive practice scenarios allow learners to apply skills in real-life interactions, improving confidence and preparedness

The simulation puts a heavy focus on engagement, relationships, and relevance. According to SAMHSA, substance misuse among college students is largely driven by the social environment, featuring a longstanding culture of alcohol use that often includes dangerously excessive drinking. To change behavior, we must change the culture. That’s an enormous task that takes time and a comprehensive campus plan. Kognito’s new Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse Prevention simulation can fit into that comprehensive plan:

  • The simulation focuses on building skills rather than merely overloading information
  • Culture and relationships are emphasized in the training
  • Subject matter experts and students were consulted to ensure the scenarios used are relevant to today’s college student

Role-play better meets the needs of today’s college students. Through simulated scenarios based on real-world examples, students can digest, reflect, and put learnings into context. By putting what they have learned into practice, the material becomes more than an abstract theory to memorize—it becomes a lifelong skill to use.

After completing the simulation, students will:

  • Understand social norms around drinking and other drugs on college campuses
  • Apply strategies that help an individual know when and how to say “no”
  • Examine the risks associated with alcohol and other drug use
  • Recognize when and how to refer peers to seek out additional help
  • Apply safe, positive, actionable strategies for intervening in situations where alcohol or other drugs are being misused
  • Compose a personal positive behaviors action plan

Students have the opportunity to select who their virtual coach is at the beginning of the simulation. This allows them to choose a virtual peer they can connect with as they learn through a combination of didactic content and role-play conversations at the relevant scenarios listed below.

Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse Prevention Role-play Scenarios

  • Going out to a party – In this scenario, students learn about setting reasonable limits and acting responsibly.
  • Looking out for a friend – In this scenario, students learn how to check for alcohol poisoning and using the “direct” and “distract” tactics to ensure their friend is safe.
  • Talking to a friend about their drinking – Students learn and practice showing empathy, using “I” statements, and discussing help options with a friend who may need support.

We believe alcohol prevention programs for college students should be outcomes-focused, evidence-based, and drive sustainable behavior change. Creating lasting change requires a comprehensive plan, and we are excited to be a part of yours as we anticipate the launch of our Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse Prevention simulation.

Experience the new alcohol prevention solution

This new prevention solution will be available for your campus in January 2021. Experience a demo here to see the power of simulation in action, and visit this page for details on the simulation.

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