Being a resident advisor is not an easy job. You take your duties extremely seriously, as your job as a Resident Advisor (RA) is to help guide students to make better decisions while living on campus, offer advice and of course enforce the rules of the residence halls and on campus policies. Sometimes it’s okay to be human and realize that some college students, especially freshman may be acting out because they truly don’t know how to behave now that they are finally on their own, or are extremely curious about substance use. Not all college students handle their new found independence and freedom the right way and it can be extremely overwhelming for some. In fact according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “more than 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, and almost half report binge drinking.”
These drinking percentages can largely be due to the fact that college students believe that everyone is drinking, and thus engage in the activity to fit in due to their perceptions of other students’ behaviors. These misconceptions can begin well before a student even enters college and often times actually start in high school. However, you may want to help students understand that the purpose of college is not to party but to obtain an education. While partying is certainly a part of the appeal, it’s important for them to find a balance between hanging out with friends, going out on weekends and studying.
This is a big part of their college career that you can help with. Speak on behalf of your own experiences and what you have learned about substance use or your academics. Often times freshman believe they have time to slack off early on and catch up later; however, every bad grade will significantly impact a GPA and first-year students may be unaware it’s extremely difficult to bring a GPA back up without spending more than 4 years in school. These are all talking points that can help you when approaching a student regarding substance use.
Here are ideas on how you can help a student who may be struggling with alcohol or drug use:
Give them some life advice. Sometimes younger or first-time students need some guidance. They may be confused about their new life and independence. This adjustment period isn’t always easy for all. They may be struggling meeting friends, miss their families or it could be the first time that they are far away from home. In this case, they could be turning to substance for relief rather than as an experimental drug. It may be refreshing for them to hear your perspective on college or just life in general. Ease their worries and assure them that this is the time in their life when truly their day to day decisions can be extremely rewarding or harmful to their future success.
Explain the consequences of underage drinking. Despite all the training you receive, confronting policy violations can be a challenge for RAs. Explain what can happen if students are caught drinking on a dry campus. Education majors in some states cannot obtain a teaching degree if caught underage drinking, and ongoing behavioral problems can result in removal from a residence hall. It’s important for students to know these rules. Most will not read their University Handbook and may not be informed. Once they know the consequences of substance use, it is their choice to continue to engage in drinking or drugging. At this point you should not feel guilty because each person must take responsibility for their own actions.
Know when a student truly needs outside help, beyond what you can offer. Some students get so caught up in the college and partying lifestyle that they completely spiral out of control. They sleep all day, stop going to class and essentially begin to fail out of school. These are situations where you may not be able to help beyond offering them advice. It may be best to get your supervisor involved. Once a student begins consuming drugs or alcohol daily, their tolerance needs will significantly increase. They will most likely need to continue to use drugs or drink to remain in a high or intoxicated state. This can be dangerous and in some cases can lead to overdoses. Additionally, if individuals suddenly stop consuming drugs or alcohol, they may experience physical withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, detox may be necessary to help them deal with withdrawal. If you feel comfortable, talk to the student about getting help. Keep your supervisor informed. Refer the student to someone who can assist them in getting into a program that can help them. Your university has lots of resources to assist in these referrals.
Reach out to the roommate of a substance user. Some students find themselves in a situation where their roommate is partying but they do not wish to engage in the same lifestyle. These situations can be very challenging. You need to support your residents while still maintaining appropriate levels of confidentiality. This is another area where you consult with your supervisor on the best strategies to assist.
As a RA it is often challenging to enforce the rules. Students may not always be happy with your decisions regarding their behaviors, but ultimately you have to do your job. In the long run these experiences will help you become a better communicator and leader when you finally embark on your career.
When it comes to substance use, remember all young adults go through an experimental stage; however it can go too far. If you feel like you’re not educated enough on substance use among college students speak with a university counselor. Take the initiative and discover the best way to approach a student or just communicate with them about substance use or getting themselves help.
Submitted by Melissa Kluska from St. Jude Retreats, non-treatment program for substance use