Colorado State Expands Renowned Alcohol Treatment Program, Becomes National Model for Other Universities

Colorado State University is expanding its renowned collegiate drug and alcohol court, the nation’s first university substance abuse treatment program of its kind, to include mandatory participation among members of fraternities and sororities identified by their peers as needing treatment.

The program, called DAY IV, is the nation’s first collegiate drug and alcohol court designed to reduce high-risk drinking behavior and reduce recurring substance abuse. DAY IV has produced a 72 percent success rate in working with more than 99 students in the last two years.

The program is so successful that the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and a coalition of leaders in higher education were on campus this month learning about DAY IV. After their visit, the group agreed to form a national committee to launch a nationwide program for other college campuses based on Colorado State’s successful model.

The expansion will treat students in the Greek system identified by their peers as students who exhibit problem drinking, engage in binge drinking or other behavior indicative of alcohol and substance abuse.

"We’re seeing two new trends that are key to addressing alcohol issues on college campuses. One is that, because students are starting to drink – and binge drink – at a younger age, they are coming to universities with more problems associated with that behavior than we have seen in the past; they’re in deeper, and the destruction that their behavior has caused in their lives and the university community is more evolved than for students who may start drinking when they are in college," said Anne Hudgens, executive director of campus life at Colorado State.

"In fact, about 6 percent of college students meet criteria to be diagnosed as alcoholics – these are individuals who are in their late teens to early 20s. About 20 percent of the students on college campuses engage in about 80 percent of the drinking.

"Second, there is an increasing number of students who are choosing not to drink at all. Just in the last year, that number has increased from 32 percent of college freshman to 37 percent. These students are rightly offended by the recent portrayal of all college students as engaged in heavy drinking."

The DAY IV program enables the university to rehabilitate students who otherwise would be dismissed from the university for chronic behavioral problems related to their alcohol or drug use.   

The multi-phase program involves a system of intense monitoring and supervision, with the first phase focusing on strategies to enforce abstinence required of all DAY IV participants; the second phase focuses on personal and leadership development; and the third phase requires participants to give back to the community through civic involvement.  

Students enter the program several different ways, traditionally through residence hall incident reports and police reports. These students then go through the university’s student judicial system. For a major infraction or problem pattern, they are dismissed from the university, but can apply for the DAY IV program as a deferment to dismissal. With the new expansion, students within the Greek system also will be identified by their peers through an official process, and will be required to complete the program to remain in good standing with their chapters.

Once enrolled in DAY IV, a student must complete several phases of treatment to successfully finish the program and earn back their good standing with the university. The program combines intervention and treatment strategies based on a student’s history and the nature of his or her behavior. For example, students must undergo a rigorous assessment procedure conducted by professionals, including multiple research-proven tests, a psychological evaluation and an alcohol and drug assessment when they apply to DAY IV.

A program designed to target a student’s individual needs is then implemented and outlined in a contract signed by the student. Contracts include mandatory abstinence from alcohol and drug use, which is monitored through random drug testing, regular interaction with a case manager and clinician, and a weekly review of their case and progress. The contract also often includes individualized commitments such as enrollment in learning assistance to improve a student’s grade-point average, group meetings with others in DAY IV or consultation with a psychiatric professional for medication or counseling.

Once students are on track by demonstrating their commitment for a minimum of four months to the agreement, they must complete at least seven experiences on campus. These experiences include gaining leadership skills, serving on committees, mentoring others and other experiences that build their confidence and self-efficacy skills. They must also meet as a group to discuss their experiences.

Students who fail to complete the entire program are dismissed from the university. Through the new expansion, students within the Greek system who fail to complete the program will be released from their chapters.

Hudgens said that the new connection between DAY IV and the Greek system will provide the program with an additional avenue through a structured student group to identify and treat students who are developing or have developed abusive behavior, and to intervene before the behavior causes additional destruction to their academic and personal achievements.

This move supports other measures implemented by the university to curb abusive alcohol consumption by Colorado State students following two consecutive nights of riots at the university and a student death due to alcohol poisoning this fall.

Among recent decisions, the university appointed a task force to investigate university procedure and policies related to alcohol. The task force will closely examine a wide range of issues, including binge drinking, underage drinking among students, as well as the fraternity and sorority system and the overall culture of the institution as part of its charge. The advisory group includes community members, faculty, staff and students and will provide an analysis of Colorado State, as well as best practices in alcohol abuse education, intervention and treatment at other institutions around the nation.