Reed's holistic approach to use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs (AOD)


  • The Reed community cares deeply about the health and safety of its students.
  • Reed has committed tremendous time, energy, and resources to develop its approach to AOD.
  • Reed’s approach to AOD is based on current research and promising practices in the field of higher education.
  • Reed’s approach to AOD received an outstanding rating in an audit by nationally recognized experts.


Reed takes a three-pronged approach to reducing the use and abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs: education, prevention, and health promotion; therapeutic intervention; and enforcement.

Education, Prevention, and Health Promotion: Empirical evidence suggests that one of the most effective methods of AOD prevention is having a robust wellness and stress-reduction program. During the last decade, Reed has steadily increased its investment in all student support programs, including those intended to prevent and effectively respond to AOD use and abuse. The college offers a multitude of community wellness programs that provide outreach activities and resources aimed to enhance student wellness and to foster a culture of wellbeing at Reed. Two programs, Peer Health Advocates and Night Owls, employ students who work compassionately and creatively to implement outreach programming. These students connect other students to wellness resources that will help them find balance and remain safe during their time at Reed. Colleges from across the country have inquired about Reed’s Night Owls program with an eye to replicating it on their campuses.

Therapeutic Intervention: Reed has a well-resourced multidisciplinary clinical staff dedicated to supporting students as they face multiple and varied issues, including AOD. During the past five years, Reed has doubled the size of the Health and Counseling Center (HCC), increased the number of clinicians and services provided, and added healthy stress-reduction and self-evaluation tools. The counseling center is staffed with both licensed clinicians and trainees at levels far above average for the size of the student body. Reed’s licensed staff includes a psychologist who specializes in substance use and abuse. HCC staff members are committed to an empirically-based, harm-reduction approach to working with students around AOD issues; it is a pragmatic, client-centered  approach, focused on reducing the risk of harm from substance use and other high-risk behaviors. In addition to therapy, Reed also provides acupuncture and biofeedback to help students manage personal challenges.

Enforcement: Reed rigorously and consistently enforces its alcohol and drug policy. The college responds to all AOD violations, and tailors its response to the specific nature of the student behavior in question. Reed has a comprehensive medical amnesty policy to help balance enforcement and harm reduction goals by removing perceived barriers to calling for help. With an eye toward educationally-purposeful interventions, which foster a safe campus community conducive to learning, Reed carefully considers the full range of response options, including collaboration with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) as outlined in Reed’s partnership agreement with the PPB. Our partnership agreement has clear protocols for when police will be contacted, including when there is evidence of felony drug crimes.


  • One significant outcome of Reed’s approach to AOD has been an increase in student success and retention; student graduation rates have risen steadily during the past decade.
  • In 2011, a blue-ribbon panel of nationally recognized experts in the field of AOD in the higher education setting reviewed Reed's policies, procedures, enforcement strategies, and educational and therapeutic programs, and found Reed’s AOD prevention and response programs to be outstanding.
  • Jason Kilmer, a researcher at Washington’s Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors, noted: “[A]s part of an external review team invited to Reed in 2011, I was impressed (as was the entire team) by the degree to which Reed administration ‘stepped up to the plate’ to support students. The institutional support and leadership surrounding efforts to enhance health and wellness on campus was exceptional.”

History of AOD enforcement

The use of AOD is a major issue for college and university campuses throughout the U.S. Tragic examples of real and irreparable harm done to individuals and academic communities through the use of alcohol and drugs are well documented. In prior decades, Reed relied on students to make responsible choices regarding substance use. In the ’60s, the college adopted a largely libertarian approach to the matter. Through the ’80s and ’90s, the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act required that all colleges adopt drug-prevention programs in order to receive any form of federal assistance, including grants and student loans. Though the college has steadily increased its investment in virtually all forms of student support since that act was adopted, more may be accomplished. Reed will continue to refine its programs in AOD education, prevention, response, therapy, and enforcement, and also will continue to provide campus-wide discussions related to maintaining a safe and healthy community.

(Page last modified: March 9, 2015)