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Students Assessing Alcohol Dependency

The facilitation of communication about alcohol and other drug issues within the MIT community was a major initiative for the previous year.

CDSA programs created and implemented support initiatives for parents, including distribution of information on how to talk to their students about alcohol and other drugs. 

In partnership with MIT Medical and the Dean for Student Life, the CDSA programs office has worked to coordinate and implement the BASICS program (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students) for the second year at MIT.

Listen in as Simon Lejeune, MD discusses alcohol counseling at MIT.
Students Assessing Alcohol Dependency
Featured Speaker:
Simon M. W. Lejeune, MD
Dr. Lejeune graduated from the Harvard Medical School in 1985. He works in Cambridge, MA and specializes in Psychiatry and Addiction Psychiatry. Dr. Lejeune is affiliated with Cambridge Hospital.

Learn more about Dr. Lejeune

Melanie Cole (Host): How can you determine if your loved one has a drinking problem and what resources are available at MIT to determine that and to screen for that? My guess today is Dr. Simon Lejeune. He’s a psychiatrist and Associate Chief of Mental Health at MIT Medical. Welcome to the show, Dr. Lejeune. How can students assess whether or not they have a drinking problem and how can they distinguish between normal drinking from problem drinking?

Dr. Simon Lejeune (Guest): It’s actually quite difficult for students in the sense that being a college student is one of the times when people have quite a lot of social pressure and it’s normal to drink a lot with certain groups of students and also to have a kind of binge drinking pattern. So, people can sort of be in that pattern and have it not be problematic, and other people could have the same kind of pattern and it can be problematic. Also, some people, when college is over they change to a totally different pattern of drinking, and other people keep drinking in the same way or even accelerate their drinking, and those are the people that we worry about the most because their drinking is no longer established by social norms, but their drinking patterns are the results of their own habit. So, what we usually look at when we’re trying to distinguish with any individual student is whether their patterns are changing and whether it is having an impact on their ability to do the things that they want to do. So, a student who values their academics and normally does well, has been missing class because they’re hung-over, and that’s a change. That would be the kind of thing that you would worry about. The other thing that we look at is whether they’re getting into trouble meaning, if people engage in behavior that they later feel bad about, or they end up in situations where they feel uncomfortable or taken advantage of, those are also signs that the drinking is a problem for that particular student.

Melanie: Are these signs and symptoms, and I want to discuss a few more of them, are they things that you would notice in yourself, or is this something that you are more likely to have somebody else notice about you?

Dr. Lejeune: I think what you would notice in yourself would be that you find yourself doing things that you wouldn’t normally think of yourself as doing, either not doing things academically, or getting involved in social events, or potentially doing things that are embarrassing. Those things people notice in themselves. But, often, it’s more that other people notice the changes in the student, and that’s more often when things come to attention. It’s the result of other people noticing it and making some kind of intervention or reaching out.

Melanie: Dr. Lejeune, some students drink regularly but don’t drink or pass out, don’t binge drink, maybe their grades haven’t been affected. Does that mean that they don’t have a problem, or is there the functional situation that could be going on?

Dr. Lejeune: Frequently, students with that pattern don’t have a problem, and their drinking is very much determined by their social situation and their friends and the kinds of things that they like to do together with their friends. You mentioned that they don’t binge drink, they don’t pass out, and their grades aren’t affected. You would also want to be sure that they are not doing things when they’re drinking with their friends that they feel bad about later as well. But, if none of those things are happening, this might well be sort of a stable pattern for their time at school and it’s not a problem. If the behavior continued after school at the same intensity, that might be a different story.

Melanie: What would you like to tell people if they notice some of those red flags in their friends, in their loved ones, or in themselves? What is the first thing that you would want them to do?

Dr. Lejeune: I think the best thing is if the person talks to the person that they’re worried about.

Melanie: Does that work, Dr. Lejeune? Does that work? Talking to your friend? Or, sometimes that could be sort of a barrier because then they shut you down?

Dr. Lejeune: I think you have to go into it with certain expectations. The person is not going to be pleased that you’re talking to them, they might well be quite angry with you, and you do run the risk of them rejecting you as part of their, becoming less of a friend, I would say. All of those things may be worth it, though, if you do have an impact. In terms of whether it works or not, when people do start to get control of their drinking, frequently what they say — at least to me when I talk to them therapy and I’ve heard this also from people who are not patients in my life as well — that it’s often someone talking to them, that it gets in there and it kind of sits in their mind, and it does have an impact in the long run, I would say.

Melanie: So you’ve talked to your friend, maybe they’ve taken it well or not. Then, what is the next step for that person? What resources are available to students who struggle with alcoholism or are concerned about their use of alcohol?

Dr. Lejeune: If you’ve talked to your friend and you’ve been quite specific about the behavior that you’ve seen, that you’re concerned about the changes in them that you may have seen, the things that they do that aren’t characteristic of them, and you do this all from what we call the ‘I’ position--basically saying, “I’ve seen this. I’m worried about this,” as opposed to saying, “You do this. You’ve changed.” You say, “I’ve observed that you’ve changed.” If you try those things and there’s no impact, the next thing to do is to get other people involved. And, you can talk to someone in your dormitory, a housemaster, a graduate resident tutor, talk to people in the fraternity or sorority that are officers. Sometimes people even talk to people’s family, because sometimes someone who is in a more powerful position will have more impact. There are a lot of resources available at MIT. There’s the what’s called “CDSA,” which is part of student life, which is where Don Camelio, in particular, is involved in both substance abuse assessment and treatment and often a way to get people involved in that is to say, “I don’t know if you have a problem but why don’t you go get it checked out,” and they can have an assessment there. They do offer individual alcohol counseling and there’s also a facilitated group there with someone who’s an expert in running groups for people with alcohol or substance abuse problems. There’s also a number of AA meetings on campus and, certainly, off campus, although frequently, an AA meeting is not something that someone will do as their first step. As well, a number of the clinicians at mental health and counseling are trained in working with people with substance abuse and getting them connected to resources. We have several individual clinicians in the community that we refer to who have are particularly strong in this area, as well as a couple of local programs. There’s an evening program which can be very convenient for students because they can go when classes are over and it’s close to campus. There are also more extensive programs, some of which occur during the day. But, you can kind of start either place with Mental Health and Counseling or with CDSA and get the help you need and get directed to what would be the best form of treatment.

Melanie: To wrap it up in the last few minutes, Dr. Lejeune, what should students do if they’re concerned about a friend’s drinking, tell them what you really want them to know and the first thing that you think that they should do to look for help for that friend at MIT Medical.

Dr. Lejeune: I think the first thing to do is to tell the person that you’re concerned and tell them that there are resources. I think that probably the lowest barrier is to tell them to come and you sort of say, “I don’t really know if you have a problem or if this is getting out of control, but I would feel better if you just talked to somebody who could access it with you.” And they could either come into mental health and have that happen or they could make an appointment over at CDSA and get some kind of assessment there also.

Melanie: Thank you so much for being with us today. You’re listening to Conversations with MIT Medical. For more information, you can go to That’s This is Melanie Cole.