URI Alcohol researcher awarded $5.6 million for new studies

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More than $5.6 million in new federal support awarded for URIs alcohol preventive intervention strategies

NIAAA awards funding to support development of national models for addressing college student alcohol abuse

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 6, 2003 — The University of Rhode Island was recently awarded a total of $5.6 million in federal funding for its ongoing and proposed efforts to reduce alcohol abuse among college students.

Members of the Universitys Alcohol Research Center and the Health Promotion Partnerships Alcohol Team received a strong vote of support from the Dept. of Health and Human Services National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) with grants for two different research proposals. Associate Professor Mark Wood of the Psychology Department and Cancer Prevention Research Center, is the principal investigator on both grants: $3.5 million for “Environmental Methods for Reducing College Drinking” and $2.1 million for “Alcohol Early Intervention for Freshmen.”

“Alcohol abuse is a problem that has plagued campuses nationwide for decades, and is one of the most challenging issues we face. I am very proud of Mark Wood and his colleagues on our Alcohol Team and the Narragansett Coalition for expanding the fine work they have done to include building a strategy that peer institutions may adopt in the future,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers, who is considered a national leader on this issue and has served as a founding member of the NIAAA Task Force on Campus Drinking. “With the NIAAA support, our leading researchers in prevention science together with top student life officials and community members are leading the way in helping to reshape this issue.”
Rapid Response to College Drinking

The University is one of five colleges nationwide selected by NIAAA in response to its request for proposals last year on “Rapid Response to College Drinking Problems.” The Universitys award, a four-year, $3.5 million grant, calls for the researchers to develop a program that demonstrates how college administrative efforts, such as alcohol policy changes, are more effective when “Environmental Management” approaches are also taken within the community. It also recognizes how ongoing partnerships between the administration and researchers are critical to helping prevent or reduce alcohol-related problems among students.

The Environmental Management elements to be addressed with this new grant include: Decreasing access to alcohol through work with the hospitality industry; emphasis on harm-reduction components such as designated driver and “safe ride” programs; increased enforcement efforts with local police departments; and increased marketing and awareness of the coalition and their efforts.

At the University of Rhode Island, the researchers are one step ahead in this process with the unique and successful Alcohol Team (A-Team) that was created in 1998 as part of the URI Health Promotion Partnership. This interdisciplinary team of faculty, staff, and students has worked to develop cooperative programs that integrate research, prevention, education, and treatments to reduce risk and harm to students. In 2000, team members initiated and developed the URI-Narragansett Coalition to address and prevent problems resulting from off-campus substance abuse and underage drinking. The coalition includes members of the Narragansett police department, town council, neighborhood associations, liquor store owners, representatives of community agencies, Realtors, students, staff and faculty of the university. The work of the coalition has reduced problems with students in the community and has enhanced town-gown relations.

“With this grant well be able to expand and evaluate our ongoing work with the URI-Narragansett Coalition and work to replicate this process within the fraternities and sororities. Well then work with the university that is selected by NIAAA to further apply the model developed,” Wood explained.

“Our A-Team fills a unique niche in that it merges research and practice by bringing together alcohol researchers and key university administrators who implement and enforce campus alcohol policies and practices. As a result, we apply scientifically supported approaches to frame institutional response to this issue on campus with tangible results.

“Over the past four years we have extended these efforts into the local community and this new environmental management approach research project will further support efforts both on- and off-campus. Institutional support for change in this arena is critical and weve benefited greatly from President Carothers leadership, locally and nationally,” said Wood.

The grant proposes to demonstrate the feasibility of a coalition-driven change process within the Greek system. The effort is to target such high-risk groups with a similar environmental management focus. The A-Team and Fraternity leadership already have begun working to develop a coalition and a common ground approach to increasing understanding of the issues and reducing risk.
“The fraternity and sorority system here will benefit from this grant. Weve already seen change being made by individual chapters regarding substance abuse issues. This grant will assist the student leadership in continuing this positive change. The grant will also help the Narragansett and URI Coalition in being more effective by addressing drinking and driving issues by working closely with students, the Narragansett Police and local tavern owners,” said Tom Dougan vice president for student affairs.

Alcohol, freshmen and parents
In the separate four-year, $2.1 million grant, the NIAAA will support what will be the first combined test of two approaches that have demonstrated independent success at other universities; student-based and parent-based interventions.

“The transition from high school to college is marked by substantial increases in alcohol abuse and problems. While theres been some success with early intervention programs with college students, to date these have largely not capitalized on parents’ ability to make a difference,” said Wood. “A growing body of research with teens and emerging work with college students point to the importance of parental involvement, especially among new students.”

This research will look at the possible effectiveness of combining student-based interventions with parent-based interventions. Over the next two years, about 1,000 pairs of student-parents will be involved in the study.

“During this transitional period of enhanced risk, our research is critical to gaining a greater understanding of just how effective parental involvement can be in helping to address this issue. There are no magic bullets. College student drinking is a multiply determined phenomenon that requires multi-faceted, integrated interventions to create behavior change, reduce risks to our student populations, and improve the quality of life on campus and in the local communities” Wood said.

Key personnel working on these projects include Dougan, URIs A-Team, Dean of Students Fran Cohen and URI Substance Abuse Prevention Program Director Daniel Reilly.

Research personnel for the grants include Professor Robert Laforge, a co-investigator on both grants, Professors John Stevenson and Paul Florin on the Environmental Methods grant, and doctoral student Christy Capone.