Boynton implements screening for high-risk drinking

Patients will be scored based on their alcohol consumption behaviors.

by Branden Largent

Whether coming in for a broken bone or a sore throat, University of Minnesota students will face more in-depth questions about their alcohol use during their next visit to Boynton Health Service.

Boynton health care providers are now using an alcohol screening tool called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, even when students visit for non-alcohol issues.

Students could be asked up to 10 questions — all related to alcohol consumption. Boynton health officials are considering this an improvement over the informal questioning used in the past.

Health care providers will calculate an AUDIT score from zero to 40 based on the students’ answers to the 10 questions.

“Sometimes if they get a high score, the health care provider would say, “Well, it’s kind of high, would you be interested in talking to somebody about that?” Boynton spokesperson Dave Golden said.

After learning seven of the Big Ten schools use AUDIT for screening students, Boynton tested the program in a few clinics before implementing it in all clinics over the summer.

Along with Boynton, University Counseling and Consulting Services and academic advisers have been trained in Brief Motivational Interviewing — a technique used to listen and talk to students about their risky behaviors, such as drinking.

“It’s not like [health care providers] are gonna yell at students and say ‘No!’” Golden said. “It’s just a way to open the door for that discussion.”

Golden said the new questionnaire and BMI training is part of the University’s involvement with the National College Health Improvement Project — a collaboration of 32 universities, including three from the Big Ten, with the goal to reduce high-risk drinking and negative consequences by 20 percent over three years.

Toben Nelson , a co-chair of the University’s Alcohol Policy and Abuse Prevention Committee, said AUDIT is the most widely used alcohol screening process in the world.

Although high-risk drinking on campus has declined in recent years, Minnesota and Wisconsin as a whole have binge drinking rates among the highest in the country, Golden said.

Among University of Minnesota students, 33.5 percent reported engaging in high-risk drinking — or consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting — according to Boynton’s 2010 College Student Health Survey report.

Lisa Mattson, associate director for the Women’s Clinic,  was initially skeptical about AUDIT’s effectiveness but said the first patient she questioned showed signs of high-risk drinking as a result of depression.

“I think it’s gonna be a positive thing,” Mattson said. “We’re not there to lecture them on anything, it’s just to make them aware of potential for abuse and to make sure nothing else is contributing to their drinking.”

Although she thinks some students aren’t truthful with their answers, Mattson is optimistic that more students will be open about the process as the year progresses.

Dana Farley, Boynton’s associate program director for public health and communications, said AUDIT will not be used to report underage students’ drinking habits.

“It’s not about prohibition, it’s about education on decision making,” said Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs.

The University’s collaboration with NCHIP was originally intended to last a year and a half, but Rinehart, also an APAP committee chair, said they plan to extend the collaboration as long as the communication between the schools remains successful.

“Alcohol abuse is probably the number one health issue for college students,” Rinehart said. “It is a major concern, and we want to do all we can to help reduce the harm.”