Opinion: Youth & Alcohol

Swagger over Swigging: Lessons from University of Kentucky

At the University of Kentucky (UK), the Office of Substance Education and Responsibility encourages our students to be individuals. Despite societal expectations of “typical” college student behavior, we want to encourage our students to make up their own minds when it comes to their decision to drink.

Based on this attitude, we began the “UK SWAgger” campaign. This campaign encourages students to develop their own individual “swagger” by setting their own goals and using the best, safest, and most responsible strategies in order to achieve them, rather than adhering to “pack mentality”. Having swagger is the ability to uphold values when making decisions.

Through our programming, we place an emphasis on encouraging safe and responsible behavior for our students when it comes to alcohol, recognizing that the two words are not necessarily interchangeable. Our first mission is to educate students about “safety” and “responsibility”.

  • Responsibility is making sure that you are in control of your own actions. Data gathered through AlcoholEdu, our online course to educate students about responsible drinking, has found that over half of our freshmen population is classified as Non-Drinkers (zero drinks within the past two weeks). However, more than two-thirds of those who choose to drink do so at high-risk levels while the remainder drinks moderately. Our responsibility message targets people who either choose not to drink or drink at moderate levels, so that their drinking quantity and frequency will remain low.
  • For students who already drink at high levels, our primary message focuses on safety. Safety means ensuring you are making choices that will not put you at risk of harm if you drink at higher levels. Some examples of promoting safety are establishing a designated driver, knowing signals of alcohol poisoning, knowing serving sizes and beverage potency, and keeping track of bottle caps/can tabs to determine how much you have consumed. These are typically called “harm-reduction strategies.”

Our AlcoholEdu data also found that 75% of our incoming freshmen have experience drinking alcohol within the year before arriving at UK. We therefore realized the need for additional alcohol education programs in the surrounding Lexington schools. Each school’s students have different needs relative to alcohol and other drug programming. With this in mind, we cater our programming to each school as well as each individual student. Knowledge of substance use varies among youth, so to connect with students we encourage them to write down and reflect on their values. Regardless of background knowledge and age, every student can relate to the importance of values. The UK Student Wellness Ambassadors (SWA) tells young people that their choices regarding alcohol correlate to their values and beliefs. We believe this early approach is key to reducing high-risk drinking before it starts.


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