March 1, 2016 8:58 pm
Updated: March 1, 2016 9:01 pm

Post-secondary schools tackle substance use problems

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KELOWNA – A mid-afternoon pint and a game of pool: a favourite campus activity for some students hanging out in at the UBC Okanagan pub on Tuesday.

“I find here it’s not a lot of people trying to get drunk, it’s more them having a beer on their break for lunch,” says bartender Kristina Silvester.

However, what about on a Friday or Saturday night? Some say things can get out of hand.

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“A lot of people maybe drink a bit too much, they don’t really know the consequences of maybe how much that binge drinking can have if you do it on a weekly or even daily basis,” says third-year political science student, Thomas Fisher.

Post-secondary schools in the province are taking a hard look at how they can promote healthier drinking habits among students.

It’s through a program called Changing the Culture of Substance Use, part of a larger initiative in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association and the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research, called Healthy Campuses Healthy Minds.

“Mental health is becoming more and more of a pressing issue for us, and in my mind it’s no doubt linked to some of the behaviours that are presented with abuse of alcohol or drugs,” says Tom Macauley, president of the UBCO Students’ Union.

Now the province is going to help with $400,000 in funding for 11 participating institutions including Okanagan College and UBCO. Each school decides how they want to use the money.

The university says it will be using the funding to engage students and stakeholders to better understand the mental health and substance use needs on campus, something the students’ union has already done some work on.

“We really are interested in investing in the other side of it which would be counseling and alternative services for students who feel that they might have some regrets or issues and that’s why we’ve brought in Third Space Foundation on campus,” says Macauley.

Some students on campus think it’s an important issue to explore and say they’re looking forward to weighing in.

“I was really good friends with a resident advisor and she said there were quite a few things going on with people over drinking and just not being able to handle their alcohol,” says second-year student Parveen Bains.

“I think it’s a good idea to get that information out there for students,” says Fisher.

Meanwhile, at Okanagan College in Vernon, they’re using the funding to help conduct a substance use survey to get students thinking about the topic and their perceptions around it.

“The goal of the survey is not so much for us to collect information about what they think. Our intention is to use the survey as a means of stimulating stigma-free dialogue and a conversation on campus around substance use,” says Derek Doige, counselor with Okanagan College.

The Changing the Culture of Substance Use program began in 2011 but the provincial funding dried up after two years. This $400,000 investment is double what the province put into it in 2013.

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