Helping Ontario's colleges and universities enhance capacity to support student mental health and well-being

Campus Initiative

SODA: Safer Ottawa Drinking Alliance

Safer Ottawa Drinking Alliance (SODA)

Project’s Website: www.sodaOttawa.ca  www.acroOttawa.ca

Project summary

The Safer Ottawa Drinking Alliance (SODA) was formed in January 2013. The alliance is comprised of fifteen community partners dedicated to creating a culture of safer alcohol use among post-secondary students in the Ottawa area.  

Three post-secondary institutions (Algonquin College, La Cite Collegiale, University of Ottawa)  form part of the SODA alliance that recognizes the importance of creating environments that support meaningful student engagement and connection to the campus community. The three post-secondary institutions  have potential influence over 65,000 full-time students and over 40,000 part-time students living and learning in the greater Ottawa area.  SODA partners aim to reduce the significant impacts associated with unsafe alcohol use by raising awareness of alcohol consumption, the positives of a safe and well-managed environment and access to online resources and community services through a comprehensive approach.

SODA partners completed a baseline alcohol attitude and behaviour survey across the three instititutions in the spring of 2013. This alcohol survey data, with a response rate of 1110 participants, formed the foundation of which the social norms campaign has been developed. The social norms campaign aimed to engage young adults on the topic of alcohol, inform what the existing norms are, and promote the protective behaviours on campuses.

Preliminary Work: Ottawa Public Health

Mobilizing post-secondary institutions alongside key community partners is an integral approach to address unsafe drinking among the young adult population whether on or off campus. The mitigation of the issue becomes a key focus of the community versus the more traditional sole ‘on campus’ isolated solution. The literature regarding unsafe alcohol use in the post-secondary setting, and in particular binge or heavy drinking behaviours, indicates that these students suffer in many ways other than physically and impact others around them. Binge drinking is associated with missing classes, falling behind in assignments, lower grades, sleep disturbances, negative impacts on relationships, and increased contact with the police. [i]  In 2011, 73% of Ottawa adult males and 48% of Ottawa adult females ages 19-24 years reported heavy drinking, which carries serious short and long-term health risks.  That same year, there were more than 700 alcohol related paramedic responses involving youth and young adults aged 15 to 29 in Ottawa. [ii]  A survey of Canadian campuses in 2004 by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that young adults at post-secondary institutions are more likely to engage in risky drinking than their peers not in school. The top two alcohol related impacts; 42% undergraduates reported sleep or study interruptions as a result of alcohol and 33% of the students experience psychological distress related to alcohol.[iii]

In response to the emerging evidence highlighting the impact of alcohol misuse on certain sub-populations, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) drafted a comprehensive Alcohol Strategy with recommendations to address the excessive alcohol use in our community.  After many months of deliberation, OPH staff turned to engaging partners in a formal consultation process to provide feedback on the draft Alcohol Strategy. The outcome of the community consultation highlighted the importance of building strategic partnerships and re-engaging old partners around the issue of alcohol.  Data analysis from the 2011 Canadian Community Health Survey, referenced in the March 2013 Board of Health Substance Misuse report[iv], revealed the need for concentrated efforts in the post-secondary age group. Discussion on excessive alcohol consumption among post-secondary students and assessment of potential for collaborative opportunities to address the issue to decrease the alcohol related harms followed.

Evidence based research for effective programming in post-secondary approaches to alcohol prevention programs supported a social norms approach. A social norms campaign is effective when the majority of students who do drink are responsible as it promotes the responsible behaviour thereby correcting students’ misperceptions of overconsumption as being the norm.[v]

In review of evidence based and promising practices, Michigan State University (MSU) was highlighted for their social norms approach due to length of the programming and the overall results to date.  The “Duck Campaign”, a twelve year student engagement strategy addresses student perceptions and attitudes towards alcohol on campus using a social norms approach. The MSU duck campaign showed very promising evaluation results. From 2000 to 2006 there was an 8.5% reduction in self-injury, a 34.8% reduction in unprotected sex due to alcohol, a 17.0% reduction in fights, a 78.3% reduction in forced sex and steady increase in the number of protective behaviours for heavy drinkers.[vi]

 [1] Henry Wechsler and Toben F. Nelson, What We Have Learned From the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions That Promote It The Journal of Alcohol and Drugs July 2008 . http://archive.sph.harvard.edu/cas/What-We-Learned-08.pdf

[1] Ottawa Public Health. Substance Misuse in Ottawa: Technical Report. March 2013. Ottawa (ON): Ottawa Public Health; 2013. http://ottawa.ca/sites/ottawa.ca/files/oph_substance_misuse_2013_en.pdf

[1] Adlaf, Edward M., Demers, Andrée, and Gliksman, Louis (Eds.)

Canadian Campus Survey 2004. Toronto, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 2005

[1]  Ottawa Public Health. Substance Misuse in Ottawa: Technical Report. March 2013. Ottawa (ON): Ottawa Public Health; 2013. http://ottawa.ca/sites/ottawa.ca/files/oph_substance_misuse_2013_en.pdf

[1] Melissa A. Lewis, PhD and Clayton Neighbors, PhD .  Social Norms Approaches Using Descriptive Drinking Norms Education: A Review of the Research on Personalized Normative Feedback, J Am Coll Health. 2006 ; 54(4): 213–218

[1] Michigan State University Social Norms Program model Evaluation outcomes website accessed July 1, 2013 http://socialnorms.msu.edu/index.php?page=evaluating-the-outcomes-2


[i] Henry Wechsler and Toben F. Nelson, What We Have Learned From the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions That Promote It The Journal of Alcohol and Drugs July 2008 . http://archive.sph.harvard.edu/cas/What-We-Learned-08.pdf

[ii] Ottawa Public Health. Substance Misuse in Ottawa: Technical Report. March 2013. Ottawa (ON): Ottawa Public Health; 2013. http://ottawa.ca/sites/ottawa.ca/files/oph_substance_misuse_2013_en.pdf

[iii] Adlaf, Edward M., Demers, Andrée, and Gliksman, Louis (Eds.)

Canadian Campus Survey 2004. Toronto, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 2005

[iv]  Ottawa Public Health. Substance Misuse in Ottawa: Technical Report. March 2013. Ottawa (ON): Ottawa Public Health; 2013. http://ottawa.ca/sites/ottawa.ca/files/oph_substance_misuse_2013_en.pdf

[v] Melissa A. Lewis, PhD and Clayton Neighbors, PhD .  Social Norms Approaches Using Descriptive Drinking Norms Education: A Review of the Research on Personalized Normative Feedback, J Am Coll Health. 2006 ; 54(4): 213–218

[vi] Michigan State University Social Norms Program model Evaluation outcomes website accessed July 1, 2013 http://socialnorms.msu.edu/index.php?page=evaluating-the-outcomes-2

Project Contact:

Sandra McCormick

Manager of Health Services
Algonquin College
613-727-4723 ext. 6252

Phillippe Proulx

Directeur du Centre de la reussite collegiale de La Cite
613-742-2483 x. 2378

Terry-Lynne Marko

Ottawa Public Health Nurse/Chair
Ottawa Public Health
613-580-6744 x.24359

Kristine Houde

Health Promotion Manager
University of Ottawa Health Services

View The Initiative Maps