Western joins $2.4 million alcohol abuse research effort

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University is among 10 colleges and universities in the Southeast selected to participate in a $2.4 million effort led by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine to reduce alcohol-related problems among college students.

Through the study, researchers will seek to understand environmental factors in the campus and community that contribute to high-risk drinking behaviors by college students, and then organize campus/community coalitions to implement focused strategies to change those environmental factors.

The three-year project, funded by grants from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, is designed to determine what approaches work best in the reduction of excessive drinking on campuses.

The grant has enabled Western to create a new campus and community coordinator position to work with researchers from Wake Forest on the development of a comprehensive alcohol abuse prevention program. Elizabeth Likis-Werle, a licensed counselor from Asheville, is now in that role, and is beginning to schedule meetings with individuals and groups from the campus and surrounding community.

Western was selected for the program because of its recent efforts to address problems of alcohol abuse, said Robert H. DuRant, a pediatric researcher at Brenner’s Children’s Hospital at Wake Forest and principal investigator for the grant project.

“We were impressed with Western’s commitment to address high-risk drinking behaviors by students, and I am optimistic that this will be a productive partnership that will result in a safer environment for students to learn,” DuRant said. “We know that certain things work – such as establishing compliance checks for places that sell alcoholic beverages to students – and we anticipate that some of the plans will be the same from college to college. Our goal is to look at what is working at Western and elsewhere so we can devise a plan that others can use.”

Western received a $15,000 grant from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States in 2002 to work with area restaurant owners, store managers, local law enforcement and public school officials, with some of the funding going toward the purchase of portable testing devices to determine blood-alcohol content.

The university also received an $875 grant from the town of Sylva in 2003 to offer free training for employees of Sylva businesses that sell alcohol, through the Training for Intervention ProcedureS program. The TIPS program is designed to teach servers and sellers of alcohol ways of preventing intoxification, drunken driving and underage drinking among their customers.

Western, through its Division of Student Affairs, also has offered alcohol awareness programs at Western North Carolina elementary and high schools, developed an online alcohol assessment process in conjunction with National Alcohol Screening Day, and distributed designated driver materials to area alcohol retailers.

“Our involvement in the Wake Forest project is another example of our on-going strategies to bring together campus and community resources in a focused manner to address alcohol issues on campus and in the immediate service area of Western,” said Robert Caruso, WCU’s vice chancellor for student affairs. “We’re attempting to address alcohol use and abuse from multiple perspectives – the university, public schools, community organizations, retailers, and law enforcement.”

For more information or to schedule a meeting with the campus and community coordinator, contact Elizabeth Likis-Werle at (828) 227-3774, or via e-mail at elikis@email.wcu.edu.