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Fact: Students drink, use drugs

When a student comes to Belmont, it’s made clear — through Towering Traditions, the Bruin Guide, residence directors and others — that the university prohibits both use and possession of drugs and alcohol on campus.

Anyone caught violating those rules faces repercussions, both on campus and also, in some cases, by Metro Police.

“There’s some teeth to our policies about alcohol and drugs for a reason,” Vince Diller, Belmont’s assistant dean of students, said. “We don’t want to be soft on that.”

These teeth can be shown through disciplinary actions. For drug violations, suspension likely will be the penalty, said Neil Jammerson, coordinator of student contact and academic integrity.

The disciplinary actions are coming more often; as Belmont grows, so have its drug and alcohol violations.

According to the Campus Security annual report, in 2009, 35 students faced penalties for alcohol violations, and in 2010, there were 61, a 42 percent increase. The drug violations on campus are even steeper, as 2010 violations were four times higher than the year before that.

Jammerson said he believes that violations have increased in number because enrollment numbers are up. Belmont’s student population increased from 5,293 for the 2009-10 academic year to 5,936 for 2010-11, a 9.1 percent jump. The number continues to rise, with more than 6,300 students enrolled in September. Just last month, two Maddox residents were arrested by Metro Police and charged with several drug-related offenses.

Diller agreed that greater numbers could create greater problems in some areas.

“There’s more bodies that can potentially create some poor decision-making,” he said, and he also speculated that people are potentially feeling more empowered to report violations.

“It’s important that everyone feels safe in this environment but also feel empowered to call them [violations] in. Let us know; help us enforce it,” Diller said,

Belmont senior Johnny Rush, who came to Belmont in 2008, said has seen firsthand the changes in the student population.

“I remember when I came here the first time there were certain parties at, if you smelled pot, the party was shut down and it was instantly taken care of,” Rush said. “Now it’s everywhere. I think it’s just the culture of the world changing. It’s a lot more acceptable in society now, whereas when I first came here it wasn’t as acceptable.”

Rush, a music business student, said he has seen his share of alcohol and drug incidents.

Before attending Belmont, Rush had been in and out of rehab as a teenager. The first time he was intoxicated was at 11, and he began to drink and smoke marijuana regularly at 12 or 13. These drugs quickly escalated to PCP and cocaine. His drinking took a backseat to his other drugs of choice. At 15, he went to rehab and relapsed several times before going through a summer’s treatment in Georgia.

Rush said he stayed sober nearly five years. He moved to Nashville and enrolled at Belmont, but then he turned 21 and started to drink again, legally, but perhaps not wisely, given his history of addiction.

This relapse didn’t come about by just a quick error in judgment. Rush said it was a decision he considered before he chose to drink and he even talked to a counselor.

“When I turned 21 and I all of a sudden I had no limits, I was like a kid in a candy store,” he said. “I didn’t know how to pour a normal drink and I didn’t know what tolerance was. There was like a real learning process of how to drink like an adult. Not go overboard and, for a lack of a word, be a s— show every time. It was learning how to be social and not use it as an escape when life gets stressful.”

Rush, now 24, can’t speculate yet on how his choice might ultimately play out. He agrees with some of the administrators who acknowledge that there is alcohol use on campus, despite the rules, but that it may not be as great a problem as it is at larger schools.

No one disagrees that the number of students using and abusing alcohol is probably below the the national average. However, there are different viewpoints on how the issues are addressed.

One of the main ways Belmont addresses alcohol and drugs is through prevention. Belmont’s main source of prevention is AlcoholEdu, Diller explained.

“AlcoholEdu is one of the best practices in higher education in educating the baseline awareness on what alcohol issues are out there,” he said. “Every student is required to take it and we rely pretty significantly on that base. So, for example, if someone does come across one of the lines we can refer back to it.”

Recent graduate Caitlin O’Leary disagrees.

“I think it’s a good idea in theory however, I don’t think in practices it actually prevents anything. In my opinion, people aren’t going to base their decisions to drink or not on AlcoholEdu,” she said.

The National Institutes of Health gave high marks to AlcoholEdu in its success in helping to reduce harmful drinking among college freshmen. However, the NIH said the results of a study published in September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine might not be long-lived.

Dr. Mallie Paschall and colleagues conducted randomized trial of incoming freshmen at 30 public and private American universities. Some students took AlcoholEdu while others took part in whatever other programs their schools offered.

Researchers also tracked 90 students from each school who took periodic surveys on use of alcohol, number of drinks per event and binge drinking frequency.

According to the NIAA, “The researchers found that students who took the online course reported significantly reduced alcohol use and binge drinking during the fall semester, compared with control students. These beneficial effects, however, did not persist into the spring semester.”

Paschall, in his report, concluded, “Lack of course effects in the following spring suggests that, by itself, the course may be insufficient to sustain effects over time, or perhaps that its benefit is eventually overcome by students’ exposure to alcohol and peer drinking behavior.”

Diller said that when prevention efforts have failed and individuals go on to using substances and perhaps developing an addiction, Belmont has limited resources.

“Those concerns are way beyond what we should try to help internally when people are truly addicted, physiologically and emotionally,” Diller said. “Anywhere on the continuum, we know that folks need to plug in on a therapeutic source that’s greater than what we offer in house.

“We have counselors that can work in psychiatric facilities, but we’re not a psychiatric facility. We are here for the daily and life stuff that can hamper your academic progress.”

Diller said that there isn’t a current need for a 12-step program tied to Alcoholics Anonymous on campus, even though they’re not uncommon on campuses — Vanderbilt has a longstanding meeting.

Rush also said that from his observation, there isn’t necessarily a need for Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous group on campus, although “it wouldn’t hurt,” he said.

“I guess I don’t know that many people who have said, ‘I want to quit drinking’ or ‘I have a problem,’” Rush said. “I think also the problem is that the typical excuse is, ‘It’s not alcoholism until you’re out of college.’ I think people kind of a turn a blind eye to the people that do have a problem and it almost won’t be as obvious until after they graduate.”

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