Jessica Duncan Cance

Photo Credit: Crystal Marie Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Many students remain unaware of a policy that allows students to report alcohol-related emergencies without facing disciplinary action.

Although there are more students aware of the University Health Services’ alcohol amnesty policy this year than last year, the number of informed students remains low, according to results released from a survey distributed to students before spring break.

The Student Amnesty for Alcohol Emergencies program, set up in 2008, is currently being “relaunched” after UHS found that many students were still afraid to report alcohol-related emergencies because of the possibility of getting in trouble.

According to Frances Nguyen, health promotion coordinator at University Health Services, many students, when told about the policy, dismissed it as being too good to be true.

“A lot of what we found in our research is a lot of students have heard about it but don’t believe it exists,” Nguyen said.

In fall 2013, the National College Health Assessment found that only 6 percent of UT students surveyed knew about the amnesty program. Before spring break, UHS distributed a second survey and found 13.9 percent of the 724 students who completed the survey were familiar with the policy.

“It’s something that exists and we really want students to know about it,” Nguyen said. “It reduces that barrier that when students call 911, that should be their first reaction instead of worrying about what the disciplinary action should be.”

According to Jason Thibodeaux, director of Student Judicial Services, there were 199 cases involving alcohol on campus, and of those cases, 11 were deemed eligible for the amnesty program. He said most disciplinary action is taken when students in residence halls are left alone because their friends do not report the situation.

“If the people had reached out for help first, it wouldn’t be a disciplinary issue,” Thibodeaux said. 

Thibodeaux said the low numbers of reports are due to the lack of students who are aware of the program. 

“Honestly, when we meet with students they don’t even know about this amnesty policy until we bring it up,” Thibodeaux said. “We would be more than happy to have many situations of the policy. We’re not out to get people.”

Student Judicial Services and University Health Services will be working together through the summer to raise awareness of the policy among first year students and will attempt to make the program better known in the fall.

Jessica Duncan Cance, assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and health education, said the re-launch of the program would also give the University an opportunity to educate students about the signs of alcohol overdose.

“It’s a very thin yet scary line that takes somebody from being drunk to potentially at risk of an alcohol overdose,” Cance said.

Cance, who is a co-chair of UT’s Wellness Network’s High-Risk Drinking Prevention committee, said the students should know the signs of alcohol poisoning. According to Cance, the committee has been working to educate more students about the amnesty policy this semester.

Cance said signs of alcohol overdose include mental confusion, gasping for air, paleness of the skin and throwing up.

“Just like you know you should wear a seat belt every time you get in the car, this should be information that is just part of your sub-consciousness,” Cance said.

Cance said the amnesty policy should make students more willing to report alcohol related emergencies and make them less worried about the consequences.

“It’s better to have a friend be mad at you than to have a friend who has an extreme medical emergency,” Cance said. “That’s a much better thing to have to deal with than to have a death or somebody hospitalized because they had too much to drink.”

Jessica Duncan Cance of the Department of Kinesiology is currently studying the relationship between substance use and pubertal development.

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Research revealed that adolescents who go through puberty at an earlier age may be more likely to experiment with substance abuse because of their desire to resemble older peers. 

Jessica Duncan Cance, assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and health education, was the lead author on the study and was responsible for developing the research questions, analyzing the data and writing up the findings. The study, “Perceived Pubertal Timing and Recent Substance Use Among Adolescents: A Longitudinal Perspective,” found that early advancement of puberty is correlated with greater experimentation with cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. 

Cance conducted her research with colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Our findings suggest that adolescents who perceive themselves as developing earlier than their peers have a heightened risk for engaging in substance use, thus adding to the ever-growing profile of factors that influence risky behavior during this stage,” said Anna Talley, graduate research assistant for the project.

According to Cance, the study confirms what other research has found, but also investigates a new aspect of the issue.

“Our study [is] unique because we were able to show that this risk persisted throughout adolescence, even after their same-aged peers caught up in their pubertal development,” Cance said.

The study suggests that preventing substance use among early developers in late elementary school or early middle school could make a long-term difference. 

Talley said while this study explores patterns of substance abuse across adolescence, the results may be interesting to students whose personal lives or future careers necessitate an understanding of the complexities of adolescent development and behavior.

“It is hoped that individuals who take concern with the well-being of adolescents — whether it’s that of a younger sibling or an entire class of middle school students — will consider the role of pubertal timing as they strive to steer youth away from adopting unhealthy behaviors,” Talley said.