Indiana University Indiana University IU

Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

COMPASS - Pointing Student Athletes in the Right Direction

In working to support its primary mission – “Strengthening a behavioral health system that promotes prevention, treatment, and recovery,” the Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) constantly seeks new opportunities to support those who might benefit from its services. In 2009, with the backing of staff members from Indiana University’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, the IPRC began to develop the “COMPASS” program (“Conversation on Motivation and Personalized Assessment of Substances”), which is a protocol that is designed to prevent and/or reduce student athletes’ substance use on an individual basis.


Many people do not realize that student athletes are at high risk for problem alcohol use1-2 and consume more alcohol than their non-athlete peers.3-4 They also binge drink more frequently and experience a higher rate of negative alcohol-related consequences than non-athletes.5 The COMPASS program is a specialized “framing” of screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) promote SBIRT as an evidence-based approach to reducing risky substance use and related harm in settings where high risk drinking and drug use occur.  Student athletes often are difficult to reach with SBIRT protocols, which are typically provided through university student health centers, because they commonly receive medical, academic, and counseling services within athletics departments. The COMPASS program is unique because it seeks to embed primary substance use prevention within departments of intercollegiate athletics and is integrated within those unique networks of relationships, activities and services. 

In the COMPASS program, SBIRT is a means of confidentially identifying athletes who may be engaging in risky or hazardous drinking (the screening component) and using conversational techniques to reduce student-athletes’ ambivalence about changing their behavior (the brief intervention component). Finally, if students are engaging in highly risky substance use, the athletic staff members are trained to refer individuals to professional counseling (the referral to treatment component). All of this is accomplished using an motivational interviewing (MI) framework, meaning that athletic staff members focus on asking open-ended questions, providing affirmations (statements supportive of positive behavior and beliefs), using reflections (restating student-athletes’ own ideas to promote change), and providing summaries of each conversation.

While the COMPASS program is still in its infancy, we are excited about the work we have accomplished in this area and about the potential benefits that we might provide both to student athletes and to athletic programs as a whole.

Organizations or individuals who are interested in the COMPASS program are encouraged to contact the IPRC by phone (812-855-1237) or by e-mail rgassman@indiana.edu.


1. Martens, M.P., Dams-O’Connor, K., & Beck, N.C. (2006). A systematic review of college student-athlete drinking: Prevalence rates, sport-related factors, and interventions. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 31(3), 305-316.

2. Nelson, T.F., & Wechsler, H. (2001). Alcohol and college athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(1), 43-47.

3. Lisha, N.E., & Sussman, S. (2010). Relationship of high school and college sports participation with alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use: A review. Addictive Behaviors, 35(5), 399-407.

4. Leichliter, J.S., Meilman, P.W., Presley, C.A., & Cashin, J.R. (1998). Alcohol use and related consequences among students with varying levels of involvement in college athletics. Journal of American College Health, 46(6), 257-262.

5. Yukso, D.A., Buckman, J.F., White, H.R., & Pandina, R.J. (2008). Risk for excessive alcohol use and drinking-related problems in college student athletes. Addictive Behaviors 33(12), 1546-1556.

By Jon Agley,   9/1/2011