May 19, 2023

UCalgary Nursing students address on-campus alcohol consumption

NURS 289 students create animation to teach harm-reduction strategies
NURS 289 Team (from left): Sylvia Wong, Derek Perchard, Dario Gooray, Geneviève Careau, Anna Young, Teagan Smith, Kuira Jackson and Halle Middleton
NURS 289 team, from left: Sylvia Wong, Derek Perchard, Dario Gooray, Geneviève Careau, Anna Young, Teagan Smith, Kuira Jackson and Halle Middleton.

Alcohol is the most-used substance on Canadian university campuses, and its primary users are first-year students who live in residence. 

So, when a group of students from the NURS 289 course in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Nursing were paired with UCalgary’s Wellness Services for their clinical placement, they were tasked with addressing alcohol consumption on campus and finding ways to minimize the risk and consequences to first-year students living in residence. 

“Drinking is a common occurrence among first-year students because it's a time of significant transition and adjustment,” says team member Kuira Jackson, BKin’20. “Research has found, especially with students who live in residence, there's a much higher prevalence of alcohol consumption.” 

Team members conducted a windshield survey, which involved looking for alcohol harm-reduction advertising on campus; conducted interviews with key informants directly engaged with the target group of the intervention; and conducted a literature review to examine current research on alcohol consumption and harm-reduction best practices. 

After all that, they got to work creating their own intervention plan. The result? An informative and accessible animated video about harm reduction that explains the risks of excessive drinking and how students can mitigate them.

“Harm reduction is about reducing the negative consequences associated with certain activities without eliminating the activity altogether,” says team member Teagan Smith, BSc’22. 

Adds Jackson: “Harm reduction is a pragmatic approach that recognizes that alcohol consumption is inevitable in society, especially in university students. So, it’s important that we focus on reducing the negative consequences of drinking, rather than trying to stop students from drinking altogether.” 

It was felt a fun animation could help keep students engaged in harm-reduction strategies while sharing valuable tips and highlighting current guidelines that have recently changed. 

Indeed, when the NURS 289 team was working on their project, new alcohol-consumption guidance was released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. “The new alcohol guidelines for 2023 are quite a drastic change from the previous guidelines that were introduced in 2011,” says Jackson.   

The new guidelines recommend that all individuals consume two standard drinks or less per week to avoid health-related consequences. “The previous guidelines stated that men should have no more than 15 drinks a week, while women should have no more than 10,” notes Smith. 

Jackson adds the new guidelines were surprising, “because it’s pretty normal for students to drink more than this when they go out on a Friday or Saturday night.” 

The aim of the video and of harm reduction in general is to reduce the stigma around drinking. “By reducing stigma, if students want to seek help, [they] can feel more comfortable doing so,” says Jackson. 

“Something we believe is really important is getting all faculty and staff on board to learn about harm reduction. It's important that faculty are inclusive to students and so that students feel supported and like they can reach out for help, if they need it.”   

To ensure that students can learn about harm-reduction strategies and seek support, Wellness Services is planning to use the video as harm-reduction advertising on its Safer Substance Use website with the hope of distributing the video more widely on campus in the future. 

Yasmeen Nosshi, UCalgary harm reduction support adviser and a key informant for the students, is leading the charge to find a wider audience for the animation. She says she believes it can clarify some of the misunderstandings about the risks and enjoyment of drinking under the new guidelines. 

“This video presents the information in a way that is accessible for students to understand ways to reduce harms of drinking alcohol,” says Nosshi, who is also a registered social worker. “It also acknowledges the reality that drinking alcohol is something that students engage in, so providing education to consume safely in creative ways is really important in this setting. There is also something very powerful about this messaging coming from students, for students. It can hopefully help their peers understand the realities of alcohol consumption."

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