When Mark Schwarze and Dr. Monica Osburn talk professionals listen.
Schwarze and Dr. Osburn co-authored an article on treatment of substance abuse among college students that was the cover story of the March/April edition of Addiction Professional magazine, a leading national publication for professional counselors. Dr. Osburn is director of UNC Pembroke’s Counseling and Testing Center, and Schwarze is coordinator of the University’s alcohol abuse prevention program.
Substance abuse among college-aged youth, especially the phenomenon of “binge drinking,” is a hot issue nationally, and Schwarze said his profession is playing catch-up.
“The magazine editors said they did not have a lot of information on this issue, and their readers are asking a lot of questions,” Schwarze said. “In the past 10 years, alcohol abuse among college students has been in the spotlight.”
The UNCP counselors offer a fresh approach to assessment and treatment of a special population that lives in a unique environment.
“It is essential that clinicians use great care when assessing college students and avoid assigning diagnoses based on what may be environmental factors instead of clinical symptoms,” Schwarze said.
Treatment must adapt to the problems wrought by the unique environment that college presents, Dr. Osburn said.
“A lot of outside treatment providers don’t work with college-age students,” she said. “Being a college student has its own set of stresses.”
Timeworn and successful treatments for the general population are not as effective as other interventions, Schwarze said.
“Traditional treatments – the 12-step method and cognitive behavioral therapy – do not work as well for college-age students,” Schwarze said. “They live in a high-risk environment.”
Instead, the UNCP counselors propose “brief and motivational interventions.” The treatment focuses on closing the gap between the client’s behavior and goals.
“We try to determine what motivates our clients,” Dr. Osburn said. “We let them drive the therapeutic process rather than the clinician telling them what they need to do. Giving up alcohol altogether is appropriate for some but not for all of this group.”
Not every college student drinks, and only a small percentage, 5-15 percent, will develop a dependency, Schwarze said.
“We are looking at the environmental factors that motivate alcohol abuse among young people and what motivates them to stop,” Schwarze said. “Our article talks about different assessment tools to determine the primary issues, then go forward with the treatment.”
Despite the reality of binge drinking and the attention it has drawn, not as many students abuse alcohol as commonly assumed, Schwarze said.
“That’s part of the problem. Young people come to college believing that they have to drink to fit in,” he said. “We need to build in healthy social norms.”
Although he also has considerable experience on the treatment side, Schwarze is working on the prevention side of the puzzle at UNCP. He is coordinator of a new multi-university project called CPARC (Coalition to Prevent Alcohol Related Consequences).
“We are going to launch a social ‘norming’ campaign in fall 2006 aimed at creating alternatives and getting better information to new students so they can make smarter decisions,” he said. “We are also working on accountability for students who are 21 or older.”
The time is now to address the problem, Schwarze said.
“We can’t sweep this problem under the rug anymore,” he said. “From the prevention side, we are attempting to focus the resources of this entire community on it.”
For more information about the CPARC program, Mark Schwarze may be reached at 910.521.6580 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about UNCP’s Counseling and Testing Center, please call 910.521.6202 or email email@example.com.