Alcohol Policies

The Federal Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act and its amendments of 1989 (Public Law 101-226, 20 U.S.C. 1011i) require all federal grant recipients to certify a drug-free environment.

A message from Interim President Wanda Austin

The University of Southern California is committed to maintaining a community in which teaching, research, and learning can thrive. That mission can succeed only if health and wellness also thrive. To that end, USC remains dedicated to upholding the requirements of the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act and its related provisions.

We want to reduce the risks from alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs so that our entire community can enjoy a safe and sustaining academic environment. This applies to our faculty and staff members and also of course to our students, who are learning habits and coping skills that will help set the direction of their adult lives. Our work does not stop in our lecture halls. We want to help young people grow in ways that enable them to succeed in their careers and personal lives. 

This is why the university provides its entire community – students, faculty, and staff – with resources that promote wellness and help avoid the harmful effects that can come from abusing alcohol and other drugs. I hope that everyone who cares about USC will read the following material and learn more about our university’s programs. 

Wanda M. Austin, Interim President


It is the policy of the University of Southern California (USC) to comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1989 and its amendments (DFSCA). The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act require USC to adopt and put into effect programs to prevent the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensation, possession or use of illegal drugs or alcohol by students and employees on USC property, at USC sponsored activities or events, and to offer anti‐drug and alcohol abuse programming. These federal regulations also require USC to distribute annually to students and employees information which outlines the following:

1). The health risks associated with alcohol and drug use and abuse;

2). Alcohol and drug abuse resources for students and employees;

3). Policies on alcohol and other drugs;

4). Information on state, municipal and federal laws and sanctions; and

5). Standards of conduct that clearly prohibit the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees on its property or as part of its on-campus or off-campus activities.

These guidelines are reviewed by USC annually to determine the effectiveness of the program and consistency of sanction enforcement, in order to identify and implement any necessary changes. Anyone receiving funding from federal sources should carefully read the section on “Special requirements for those working on or with federal contracts and grants.”


USC recognizes that illegal or abusive use of alcohol and other drugs by members of the university community has a detrimental effect on the university’s commitment to provide continual excellence in teaching, research and education. Misuse of drugs by students poses hazards both to the individual involved and to the community. Students share with faculty and staff the responsibility for creating attitudes conducive to eliminating the abuse of alcohol and other drugs within the university community.

USC’s comprehensive approach to addressing substance abuse emphasizes:

  • Taking effective steps to create and maintain a drug-free workplace and educational environment for students, faculty and staff.
  • Providing continuous access to prevention, health promotion and medical and behavioral healthcare services, along with referrals to off-campus treatment facilities as appropriate.
  • Encouraging individuals who are experiencing problems associated with alcohol and other drugs to seek assessment and treatment.
  • Engaging in ongoing self-assessment of university sanctions for the illegal manufacture, distribution, use or possession of drugs and the unlawful possession or use of alcohol. (See “Sanctions” section of this policy for an overview of possible university and criminal sanctions.)

Health risks associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs

General health risks

Many well-documented risks are associated with alcohol and other drugs, affecting not only the individual user but also his/her family, friends and communities. Alcohol is frequently implicated in cases of sexual misconduct on campus, for example, and the misuse of other drugs is sometimes a factor in other violent behavior. Problems associated with alcohol and other drugs include impaired brain function; poor academic or job performance; relationship difficulties, including sexual dysfunction; a tendency to verbal and physical violence; financial distress; injuries or accidents; violations of the law such as driving under the influence; willfully destroying property; and death.

The following summaries describe some of the additional substance-specific risks associated with the use and misuse of alcohol and other substances.


For men, at-risk drinking is drinking more than four standard doses (or drinks) of alcohol a day and/or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, at-risk drinking is drinking more than three standard doses (or drinks) drinks a day and/or more than seven drinks a week. (One drink is equal to 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, or 1.5 oz liquor.) While any alcohol use has the potential to contribute to problems (e.g., alcohol use impairs brain function and motor skills even when not legally drunk), studies show that certain “at-risk” drinking patterns are associated with an increased likelihood of negative outcomes.

At-risk drinking can cause poor performance in school or at work, accidents, injuries, arguments, legal problems (including DUI), strained relationships, undesirable or even dangerous sex, and verbal or physical violence, including the perpetration of sexual assault. At-risk drinking also contributes to sleep problems, prolonged intoxication aka hangovers, cancer, liver disease, stroke, depression, anxiety, and Alcohol Use Disorder.

At-risk alcohol consumption is involved in the majority of violent acts on campuses, including sexual assault, vandalism, fights, and accidents involving cars, pedestrians and bicycles.

Although not necessarily obvious in the traditional college age (18-24) population, there is addiction among users.

Cannibis (marijuana, hashish)

THC, the active chemical in marijuana, is stored in the fat cells of the body, and depending on the amount used and duration of time, can stay in the body for anything from a few days to about two months. Marijuana use can impair or distort short-term memory and comprehension, alter the user’s sense of time, and reduce coordination. Use may also result in a compromised immune system and an increased risk of lung cancer.

Cocaine (crack and other stimulants)

The immediate effects of cocaine use include dilated pupils, and increased blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate followed by a crash when the drug wears off. Over the longer term, cocaine users often have nasal passage and nasal septum problems.  There is a high rate of addiction among users.

Hallucinogens (LSD, mescaline, psilocybin)

Hallucinogens cause illusions and distortions of time and perception. The user may experience episodes of panic, confusion, suspicion, anxiety and loss of control. Flashbacks can occur even after use has stopped. PCP or phencyclidine has been shown to produce violent behaviors which can lead to injuries to the user or a bystander.

Heroin (other opiates)

Heroin causes the body to experience diminished pain. If injected, it can result in blood vessel damage (and possibly the transmission of infections such as hepatitis and HlV if needles are shared). There is a high rate of addiction among users.

Tobacco (cigarettes, chew, and other products)

Tobacco use has been proven not only to be addictive, but to have serious, well-documented health consequences. While many people, particularly students, look to smoking as a way of reducing stress, it should be remembered that there is no comparison between the stress of facing emphysema or lung cancer and the stress of preparing for mid-terms. There is a high rate of addiction among users.

Student Affairs Policy Reminders

(January 8, 2018)

As you may be aware, on January 1, 2018 a new law went in effect in California permitting the limited use of recreational cannabis (marijuana) by people 21 and older. As this law goes into implementation, we want to take this opportunity to remind our community about USC Smoke and Drug Free policies.

In compliance with federal regulations and our commitment to promoting a healthy, safe and comfortable environment for all students, faculty, staff and visitors, the USC campus remains smoke and drug free. Smoking and/or the use of all illegal drugs, including cannabis (marijuana) is prohibited in all indoor and outdoor facilities on university owned and leased property with no exception, including within vehicles parked on those properties. This includes all university owned and leased housing, dining, hotel, retail, athletic and performance facilities and all teaching, research, clinical and office space. In addition to university owned and operated student housing facilities, this policy also applies to any property occupied by any fraternity or sorority officially recognized by the university.

Smoking is defined as inhaling, exhaling, burning, carrying or possessing any lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, electronic cigarette, hookah or other lit product and including the use of any substance, including but not limited to tobacco, cloves or marijuana. Illegal drugs include all forms of cannabis, including in amounts and forms otherwise permitted by California law in non-campus locations.

Refusal by faculty, staff or students to comply with this policy may result in appropriate disciplinary action.

Confidential help is available for students, faculty and staff who may be are experiencing problems associated with alcohol and other drugs or nicotine dependence. (UPC Students) (HSC Students) (Faculty/Staff)