Student Handbook

Chapter 9: Alcohol and Controlled Substances

Alcoholic Beverage and Illicit Drug Policies for All Students and Organizations / Policies for Postbaccalaureate Students and Organizations / Alcoholic Beverage Policies for Undergraduate Students of Legal Drinking Age / Emergency Treatment / Sanctions / Health Risks / Warning Signs of Possible Substance Abuse / Drug Effects Table (PDF Document) / Federal Trafficking Penalty Charts (PDF Document)

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Vanderbilt University is deeply concerned about the health and welfare of its students. University policies and regulations in general-and alcohol and illicit drug policies in particular-reflect that concern. The purpose of the policy, and the purpose of articulating it in great detail, is to enable students to make informed-and it is hoped, intelligent-choices, and to enable them to understand the consequences of making poor choices. In compliance with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Campuses regulations, Vanderbilt has adopted a policy that includes the expectation that students will comply with federal, state, and local laws, including those relating to alcoholic beverages, narcotics, and other drugs.

The University prohibits the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of alcohol and illicit drugs by students, faculty, and staff, on its property, or as part of any University-sponsored activity. The prohibition extends to off-campus activities that are officially sponsored by Vanderbilt, its schools, departments, or organizations. In addition, the prohibition extends to off-campus professional or organizational activities, including attendance at conferences, when participation is sponsored by the University, or when the participant student, faculty member, or staff member is representing the University. Finally, the prohibition extends to "private" events off campus where the University may have an interest (e.g., if a student were to provide alcohol to underage students at an off-campus location).

The improper use of prescription drugs is a serious problem on college campuses. For this reason, it is a violation of University conduct rules for a student to be in possession of another person's prescription medication or for a student to provide another person with drugs that have been prescribed for that student.

To underscore the seriousness with which it takes the issue of health and welfare of its constituent populations, the University will impose disciplinary sanctions on students, faculty, and staff -- up to and including expulsion or termination of employment, and possible referral for prosecution --for violation of the alcohol and illicit drug policy. Conditions of continued employment or enrollment may include the completion of an appropriate rehabilitation program.

In addition to the standards of conduct prohibited by law and University policy, students, faculty, and staff are subject to the additional requirements, disciplinary standards, and procedures promulgated by their respective schools, departments, and organizations. Additional standards of conduct, disciplinary standards, and procedures may be found elsewhere in The Student Handbook, in the Faculty Manual, and in the Medical Center Alcohol and Drug Use Policy (Policy No. 30-08), and any applicable union contract. Students, faculty, and staff should refer to appropriate documents for detail.

Alcoholic Beverage and Illicit Drugs Policies for All Students and Organizations

The following regulations apply to the use of alcoholic beverages or illicit drugs by individuals, by groups, by University departments, or by an organization's members and invited guests:

  • At no time may alcoholic beverages be provided (served, distributed, furnished) to persons under legal drinking age (twenty-one years old) for the state of Tennessee.
  • Because of the danger that drunk drivers pose to themselves and to others, the operation of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is prohibited.
  • Again, due to the danger that intoxicated persons pose to themselves and to others, as well as to the disruption that intoxication can bring to the living/learning community, intoxication is prohibited.
  • Alcohol may not be used as an award or trophy for any event or program of the University or by any University organization, group, or individual.
  • Notices, posters, flyers, banners, etc., may not use logos or trademarks of alcoholic beverages, or mention or refer to alcoholic beverages or their availability at an event.
  • "B.Y.O.B.," as shorthand for "Bring Your Own Bottle," may be used on postings, etc., for events that have been registered B.Y.O.B. during the event registration process. (Any B.Y.O.B. event sponsored by a student organization must be registered and approved with the Office of Schedules and Reservations in 208 Sarratt with the exception of events at Fraternity or Sorority Houses, which are registered with the Office of Greek Life.)
  • Groups or individuals who effect excessive and/or harmful consumption of alcohol through games, peer pressure, subterfuge, or other activities are subject to disciplinary action.
  • Possession, use or distribution of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia is prohibited; this prohibition includes possession of prescription medication belonging to another person and distribution of a medication prescribed to a person to any other person. The term distribution includes "sharing" of any drug and does not require any exchange of money.
  • The use of common containers of alcoholic beverages such as kegs, punch bowls, or party balls by undergraduates, the use of pure grain alcohol by individuals or organizations, the use of devices such as funnels and beer bongs designed for the rapid consumption of alcohol, and drinking games are prohibited on campus or at any event sponsored by a student organization off campus.

Policies for Postbaccalaureate Students and Organizations

Graduate and professional students and organizations must register their events with the Office of Schedules and Reservations, and secure authorization through the Events Registration Committee for events at which alcoholic beverages are present. If an undergraduate group cosponsors an event with a postbaccalaureate group, the policies governing undergraduate events must be followed. In addition, postbaccalaureate groups and their officers are subject to disciplinary action if there are violations of the underage drinking law or University policies and regulations at their events. Officers of an organization or a residence hall or individuals hosting an event are responsible for ensuring compliance with University policies and state and local law. Both organizations and individuals are subject to disciplinary action by the University, by the state of Tennessee, and by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville.

Alcoholic Beverage Policies for Undergraduate Students of Legal Drinking Age

The only places on campus where students of legal drinking age may routinely possess and consume alcoholic beverages are as follows:

1. The rooms and apartments of students in upperclass residence halls (with the exception of substance-free floors and buildings, and freshman rooms in upperclass buildings)

2. Fraternity houses

3. The Overcup Oak.

Students may not consume alcoholic beverages elsewhere, except in common areas designated by student vote in upperclass residence halls in accordance with residential autonomy procedures, or when an event has been appropriately registered as an event at which alcoholic beverages will be consumed (see also "Scheduling Activities" in Chapter 3).

Being in residence hall lobbies or about the campus with open containers of beer or other alcoholic beverages, regardless of the type of container, is prohibited.

For special events, a place may be designated as one where the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages by those of legal drinking age is permitted. However, such occasions must be registered, approved, and advertised five days in advance as an event at which alcohol may be consumed (e.g., the event must be authorized for B.Y.O.B., or authorization be granted by the Dean of Students or the dean's designee to serve undergraduates, and no common containers may be used).

The use of common containers of alcoholic beverages such as kegs, punch bowls, or party balls by undergraduates, the use of pure grain alcohol by individuals or organizations, the use of devices such as funnels and beer bongs designed for the rapid consumption of alcohol, and drinking games are prohibited on campus or at any event sponsored by a student organization off campus.

Undergraduate students who have reached the age designated by the state (twenty-one years of age) for the legal consumption of alcoholic beverages may possess and consume alcoholic beverages at events registered and approved for consumption on a "bring-your-own" basis. (See "Scheduling Activities" in Chapter 3, for registration requirements.).

B.Y.O.B. practices contemplate that an individual student of drinking age may share alcoholic beverages with a date or a companion who is also of legal drinking age. However, any subterfuge or device to evade the spirit of the University policy prohibiting the use of common containers or the provision of alcoholic beverages at undergraduate functions will subject students and organizations to disciplinary action.

Any time alcoholic beverages are served or permitted, alternative beverages and food must also be served during the entire period that alcoholic beverages are available. Students organizing a B.Y.O.B. event are responsible for providing nonalcoholic beverages and food.

The sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited, unless licensed by state or local authorities and authorized by the University. Prohibition includes the sale of tickets, which can be traded for alcoholic beverages, or the sale of t-shirts required for entry into an event where alcohol is distributed, or any scheme masking the distribution of alcohol.

Individuals who wish to invite guests to a party or gathering in their rooms, apartments, suites, or lodges must have authorization from the assistant director (AD) for the residential complex. For the event to be B.Y.O.B., a majority of the hosts must be of legal age to drink alcoholic beverages.

Undergraduate groups, individuals, students, faculty, and staff may not serve alcoholic beverages to undergraduate students, except by special authorization from the Dean of Students or the dean's designee. Authorizations are limited to faculty-student mixers or dinners and very special occasions where a reasonable percentage of those attending are of legal drinking age. To seek authorization to serve alcohol for an event, the officers of the student organization should obtain a Special Event Registration Form from the Office of Schedules and Reservations and secure the approval by signature of their faculty adviser. The Special Event Registration Form must then be submitted to the Events Registration Committee. If authorization to serve alcohol is granted, the completed form should then be filed with the Office of Schedules and Reservations no fewer than five days in advance of the event. (See also, "Registration of Meetings, Concerts, Lectures, and Special Events" in Chapter 3.)

Officers of an organization or a residence hall or individuals hosting an event are responsible for ensuring compliance with University policies and state and local law. Both organizations and individuals are subject to disciplinary sanction by the University and prosecution by the state of Tennessee and the Metropolitan Government of Nashville.

Emergency Treatment

It is in the best interest of students' welfare that persons who overdose or become intoxicated be brought to the attention of medical personnel. For that reason, and other University policies notwithstanding, it is University policy that no student seeking medical attention for intoxication or overdose shall be formally disciplined for the simple illegal use or underage possession of alcohol or other drugs, provided that the sole reason the student's intoxication or overdose was discovered by University officials arose from the seeking of medical care (by the affected student or by friends of the affected student).

Immunity from disciplinary action for alcohol violations extends to individuals seeking help for the intoxicated student, but does not relieve a group of responsibility for violation of policy; however, the fact that an organization sought help for an intoxicated student will be considered in determining any sanction for policy violations. Affected students immune from disciplinary action will be required to complete a course of evaluation counseling and, where indicated, treatment. Failure to complete the prescribed course can result in disciplinary action.


University Sanctions.

Vanderbilt University will impose disciplinary sanctions on students, ranging from a warning or reprimand, to disciplinary probation, suspension, or expulsion and referral for state or federal prosecution, for violation of its alcohol and controlled substances policy. As is the case with violations of other University policies, sanctions imposed will be appropriate to the severity and circumstances of the violation. The student's previous record, attitude, and the seriousness of the offense will be taken into account in the determination of sanction.

The minimum sanction for simple unlawful purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol is a reprimand for the first offense. The completion of an appropriate assessment, education or rehabilitation program may be required. For simple unlawful possession or consumption in a substance-free residential area, the reprimand may be enhanced with sanctions that might include attendance or implementation of educational programs, or service projects. (See below.) In addition, disciplinary action will be taken for misconduct that results from the use of alcoholic beverages or other drugs. Students will also be held responsible for any damages that result from their misconduct. These sanctions will be imposed consistent with disciplinary standards and procedures found in The Student Conduct System.

The minimum penalty for first-offense intoxication is disciplinary probation. Standard indicators for drinking and/or intoxication include lack of balance, loss of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, odor of intoxicant, admissions to drinking, etc.

The minimum penalty for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is probation and loss of campus driving and parking privileges.

The presumptive penalty for a third violation of alcohol or controlled substances policies is suspension. Such offenses include-but are not limited to-underage possession or consumption of alcohol, illegal or unauthorized possession or consumption of controlled substances, intoxication, DUI, other alcohol or drug-related offenses against the community. Additionally, violations involving behavior that injures persons, that damages property, or that injures or damages the community at-large, strengthen the presumptive power of this penalty.

Because of the seriousness of unlawful provision, distribution, or sale of alcohol or other drugs by a student (or group or organization), violation of this policy will result in serious disciplinary action, which may include suspension or expulsion for the first offense, and may also result in criminal prosecution. The minimum penalty for a student who illegally distributes alcohol to an underage student will be probation for the first offense, and suspension for the second offense. Distribution of illegal drugs (including prescription medication) may result in suspension for a first offense; this includes incidents in which no money is exchanged. In addition, the possession of illicit drugs or alcohol in such quantities as to create a presumption of possession with the intent to distribute on or off the campus, is a serious violation that may result in immediate suspension or expulsion. Evidence that a student has distributed drugs is grounds for immediate suspension from the University and/or expulsion from University housing pending a hearing on the charges.

Student organizations which provide alcohol to those not of legal age, whether through direct purchase or other group activities, may be placed on probation for one calendar year for the first offense, with no parties with alcohol permitted for a period of six months.

Persons who unlawfully furnish alcoholic beverages to students who are not of legal drinking age may also be liable for personal injuries or property damages resulting from misconduct committed by underage, intoxicated students. Student organizations and the officers of such organizations may also have such liabilities.

Sanction Enhancements

The purpose of any sanction for a violation of University policy is to get a student's attention, to effect reflection on the part of the student, and, it is hoped, to effect compliance with the policy. Because violations of alcohol and drug policies can be a threat to a student's health, welfare, and even life, enhancements may be added to any official sanction as additional means of helping students understand the potential consequences of policy violations.

Such enhancements may include the following:

1. Evaluation by an alcohol and drug counselor at Student Health, and treatment or enrollment in a counseling program when indicated by the results of the evaluation.

2. Attendance at alcohol or drug education seminars.

3. Implementation of an alcohol or drug educational program for peers.

4. Service work details linked to behavior associated with use of alcohol. (Such details might include picking up litter from campus lawns, cleaning lobbies, restrooms, and stairwells, of residence halls, etc.)

5. Completion of educational programs or on-line courses.

State of Tennessee Sanctions.

[This document contains a summary of state and federal sanctions for the unlawful use of illicit drugs and alcohol. Portions of the summary were provided by the federal government, and while the summary is a good faith effort to provide information, Vanderbilt does not guarantee its accuracy.] Under state law, it is unlawful for any person under the age of twenty-one (21) to buy, possess, transport (unless in the course of their employment), or consume alcoholic beverages, including wine or beer. It is also unlawful for any adult to buy alcoholic beverages for or furnish them for any purpose to anyone under twenty-one years of age. These offenses are classified Class A Misdemeanors punishable by imprisonment for not more than eleven months and twenty-nine days, or a fine of not more than $2,500, or both. (T.C.A. ß 1-3-113, 39-15-404, 57-5-301.) The offense of public intoxication is a Class C Misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of not more than thirty days or a fine of not more than $50, or both. (T.C.A. ß 39-17-310.) Under Tennessee law, the offense of possession or casual exchange of a controlled substance (such as marijuana) is punishable as a Class A Misdemeanor (eleven months twenty-nine days and/or a fine of $2,500). For the third and subsequent offense of possession of 1/2 oz. or less of marijuana, punishment is one to six years of imprisonment and a $3,000 fine. If there is an exchange from a person over twenty-one years of age to a person under twenty-one, and the older person is at least two years older than the younger, and the older person knows that the younger is under twenty-one years of age, then the offense is classified as a felony. (T.C.A. ß 39-17-417, 21 U.S.C. ß 801, et seq.; T.C.A. ß 39-17-417.) Possession of more than 1/2 oz. of marijuana under circumstances where intent to resell may be implicit is punishable by one to six years of imprisonment and a $5,000 fine for the first offense.

State penalties for possession of substantial quantities of a controlled substance or for manufacturing or distribution range up to a maximum of fifteen to sixty years of imprisonment and a $500,000 fine. (Title 39, T.C.A., Chapter 17.) For example, possession of more than twenty-six grams of cocaine is punishable by eight to thirty years of imprisonment and a $200,000 fine for the first offense.

The state may, under certain circumstances, impound a vehicle used to transport or conceal controlled substances.

United States Penalties and Sanctions for Illegal Possession of a Controlled Substance

21 U.S.C. 844(a)

First conviction: Up to one year imprisonment and fine of at least $1,000 but not more than $100,000, or both.

After one prior drug conviction: At least fifteen days in prison, not to exceed two years, and fine of at least $2,500 but not more than $250,000, or both.

After two or more prior drug convictions: At least ninety days in prison, not to exceed three years, and fine of at least $5,000 but not more than $250,000, or both.

Special sentencing provisions for possession of crack cocaine:

Mandatory at least five years in prison, not to exceed twenty years, and fine of up to $250,000, or both, if:

  • (a) first conviction and the amount of crack possessed exceeds five grams.
  • (b) second crack conviction and the amount of crack possessed exceeds three grams.
  • (c) third or subsequent crack conviction and the amount of crack possessed exceeds one gram.

21 U.S.C. 853(a)(2) and 881(a)(7)

Forfeiture of personal and real property used to possess or to facilitate possession of a controlled substance if that offense is punishable by more than one year imprisonment. (See special sentencing provisions re: crack.)

21 U.S.C. 881(a)(4)

Forfeiture of vehicles, boats, aircraft, or any other conveyance used to transport or conceal a controlled substance. [An automobile may be impounded in cases involving any controlled substance in any amount.]

21 U.S.C. 844(a)

21 U.S.C. 853(a)Civil fine of up to $10,000 (pending adoption of final regulations).

Denial of federal benefits, such as student loans, grants, contracts, and professional and commercial licenses, up to one year for first offense, up to five years for second and subsequent offenses.

18 U.S.C. 922(g)

Ineligibility to receive or purchase a firearm.


Revocation of certain federal licenses and benefits, e.g., pilot licenses, public housing tenancy, are vested within the authorities of individual federal agencies. Violations of federal trafficking laws that involve either (1) distribution or possession of controlled substances at or near a school or university campus, or (2) distribution of controlled substances to persons under twenty-one (21) years of age, incur doubled penalties under federal law. (See chart: Federal Trafficking Penalties.)


As an educational institution, the University is primarily concerned with helping the individual student achieve academic goals. When health problems do arise, the University may assist and guide a student whose mental or physical health is threatened. Because of the health hazards, students who choose to use alcohol should do so in moderation. Should students or their friends have a problem with alcohol or other drugs, there are several places on campus where one can receive assistance:

1. The Resident Adviser (RA), Head Resident, or Assistant Director is available to listen to students with such problems and make a referral if necessary.

2. The Office of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention is located in 206 Sarratt Student Center.

3. The Psychological and Counseling Center and the Student Health Center both have therapists who can assist.

4. Students may wish to talk to someone at the office of Campus Ministries.

5. The Vanderbilt Institute for Treatment of Addiction (VITA) offers both in- and outpatient treatment (327-7200).

These campus and community resources are available and ready to assist. Calls will be handled in a confidential manner.

  • Your Resident Adviser
  • Your Assistant Director
  • Your Dean
  • Your own physician/psychiatrist
  • Office of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention 343-4740
  • Student Health Center 322-2427
  • Psychological and Counseling Center 322-2571
  • Campus Ministries 322-2457
  • Office of Housing and Residential Education 322-2591
  • International Student and Scholar Services 322-2753
  • Emergency Room (VUH) 322-3391
  • Crisis Call Center 244-7444
  • VITA (Vanderbilt Institute for Treatment of Addiction) 327-7200
  • AA (call Friendship House, 202-23rd Avenue North, telephone 327-3909, for meeting times)

Health Risks

The following is a summary of known health risks associated with the use of illicit drugs and the abuse of alcohol. Part of the summary was provided by the federal government, and Vanderbilt does not guarantee that it is an error-free or exhaustive accounting.

Effects of alcohol abuse

Acute: Alcohol consumption causes a number of marked changes in behavior. Even low doses significantly impair the judgment and coordination required to drive a car safely, increasing the likelihood that the driver will be involved in an accident. Accidents are the leading cause of death among individuals aged fifteen to twenty-four years. Most are related to drinking and driving. Poor decisions and aggressive acts such as sexual assault are almost always associated with alcohol use. Low to moderate doses of alcohol also increase the incidence of a variety of aggressive acts, including spouse and child abuse. Moderate to high doses of alcohol cause marked impairments in higher mental functions, severely altering a person's ability to learn and remember information. Very high doses cause respiratory depression and death. If combined with other depressants of the central nervous system, much lower doses of alcohol will produce the effects just described.

Chronic: Repeated use of alcohol can lead to dependence. Sudden cessation of alcohol intake is likely to produce withdrawal symptoms, including severe anxiety, tremors, hallucinations, and convulsions. Alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. Long-term consumption of large quantities of alcohol, particularly when combined with poor nutrition, can also lead to permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and the liver. Some studies suggest that brain cells are actually permanently lost (killed) by high levels of alcohol.

Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol syndrome. These infants have irreversible physical abnormalities and mental retardation. In addition, research indicates that children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk than other youngsters of becoming alcoholics.

Effects of other drugs

Marijuana: Marijuana and related compounds are usually used for their "relaxation" effects or to produce an altered sense of reality-a "high." Marijuana is usually smoked, and like tobacco, it is very toxic to the lungs. Disorders of memory (loss) and of mood often occur in chronic users.

Cocaine (stimulant). Cocaine, crack, and related forms are usually used for stimulation and to produce a sense of euphoria. All forms of cocaine are highly addictive, producing a habit that is extremely difficult to stop. In some individuals, cocaine may produce fatal cardiac rhythm disturbances.

Amphetamines (stimulants): Amphetamines, and their new derivatives "crystal," "ice," and Ecstasy, are used for stimulation. These compounds are very addictive and may produce psychotic and violent behaviors.

LSD & PCP (hallucinogens): These chemicals are used to produce "altered states" to escape reality. In changing perceptions, these drugs can result in very poor decision making which can lead to accident or death. They can cause psychosis in some individuals.

Valium, Barbiturates, etc. (depressants): These and other prescription drugs of this type are usually used for their sedative or hypnotic effects. Some of these drugs are highly addictive, and others can cause seizures (convulsions) in individuals who take them over long periods of time. These drugs can be fatal if mixed with alcohol or other depressants.

Heroin, Codeine, etc. (narcotics): These are some of the most addictive substances known. They produce a high or euphoria. Withdrawal can produce convulsions or even coma. Overdose is common and can result in death. Needle-drug users are in a high-risk group for infection with human immunodeficiency virus, thought to be the cause of AIDS.

Other. Many medications and drugs have the potential for abuse. If you have concerns or questions, ask for professional advice.

Warning Signs of Possible Substance Abuse

  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Increased boredom or drowsiness
  • Change in personal appearance (increasingly unkempt or sloppy)
  • Change in friends
  • Easily discouraged; defeatist attitude
  • Low frustration tolerance (outbursts)
  • Violent behavior and vandalism
  • Terse replies to questions or conversation
  • Sad or forlorn expression
  • Lying
  • Poor classroom attendance
  • Dropping grades or poor work
  • Apathy or loss of interest

When such signs appear in friends,


  • Express your concern and caring
  • Be ready to listen
  • Communicate your desire to help
  • Make concrete suggestions as to where the student can find help or how he or she might cope with a given problem
  • Try to get the student to seek professional help
  • Ask for assistance from campus resources
  • Be persistent


  • Take the situation lightly or as a joke
  • Be offended if the student tries to "put you off"
  • Take "I don't have a problem" as an answer
  • Try to handle the student alone-ask for assistance
  • Lecture about right and wrong
  • Promote guilt feelings about grades or anything else
  • Gossip: speak of it only to those who can help