Alcohol and Other Drug Policies

In compliance with the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, Harvard University publishes information regarding the University ’s prevention programs related to drug and alcohol abuse prevention which include standards of conduct that prohibit the unlawful possession, use, and distribution of alcohol and illegal drugs on campus and at institution-associated activities; sanctions for violations of federal, state, and local laws and University  policy; a description of health risks associated with alcohol and other drug use and abuse; and a description of available counseling, treatment, rehabilitation and/or re-entry programs for Harvard University students and employees.

Harvard expects its students and employees to maintain an environment that is safe and healthy. The University is not, and cannot be considered, a sanctuary from existing federal, state and local laws. The unlawful possession, sale, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees on Harvard property or as a part of any Harvard activity are violations of University rules as well as the law and are prohibited. Possession, use, or distribution of certain non-prescription drugs, including marijuana, amphetamines, heroin, cocaine, and non-prescription synthetics; procurement or distribution of alcohol by anyone under 21 years of age; and provision of alcohol to anyone under 21 years of age are violations of the law and of Harvard policy. The University also holds its students and employees responsible for the consequences of their decisions to use or distribute illicit drugs or to serve or consume alcohol. The Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) will enforce Massachusetts underage drinking laws and federal and state drug laws.

Harvard Standards of Conduct and Disciplinary Sanctions

For Students:

As stated above, Harvard University, consistent with the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, prohibits the consumption, possession, use and sale, and the provision or serving of alcoholic beverages by and to persons less than 21 years of age. In addition, Harvard University, consistent with state and federal law, prohibits the consumption, possession, use, and sale of illicit drugs, including the misuse (sharing, buying, or using in a manner different than prescribed) of prescription drugs. These policies and laws are enforced by HUPD.

Students should consult their School handbooks for other applicable policies and disciplinary procedures related to student conduct regarding alcohol and drugs, as well as state and federal laws concerning hazing, firearms, and other important concerns. When cases involving drugs and alcohol come to the attention of their School, the School may take disciplinary action as appropriate.

Students who receive Pell and certain other federal grants also should be aware that they must report any conviction of a drug-related offense to the U.S. Department of Education within ten days of the conviction if the offense occurred during the period covered by the grant.

For Employees:

The Harvard University Personnel Manual states as follows:

The University's policy on drugs and alcohol in the workplace is designed to address the University's concern for the health and well-being of its employees, and to ensure that the Harvard community complies with the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989. Penalties for violations of these policies, or for violations of the laws regarding controlled substances or alcohol, range from warning to permanent separation from the University depending on the seriousness of the infraction and the degree to which violation of the policy adversely affects the well-being of the community or the fulfillment of the University's educational mission. The Harvard University Personnel Manual can be found here:

This policy applies to every Harvard employee, including temporary and less-than-half-time (LHT) employees.

Controlled Substances

Employees may not consume, manufacture, distribute, dispense, or be under the influence of controlled substances in the workplace, including in vehicles provided by Harvard, at any worksite or location at which University duties are being performed by Harvard employees, or as part of any other Harvard activities. Common examples of controlled substances include, but are not limited to: cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.

The University will take disciplinary action against violators, consistent with Harvard policy, and federal, state and local laws. Such disciplinary action may include satisfactory participation in a substance abuse treatment, counseling or education program as a condition of reinstatement or continued employment; suspension; termination of employment; and referral for prosecution.

Reporting Requirements

The Drug-Free Workplace Act requires that employers who are engaged in activities funded by federal grants or contracts notify the relevant federal agency of convictions under the criminal drug laws for violations occurring in the workplace. To ensure Harvard's compliance with this federal law, an employee must report any criminal drug statute conviction for a violation occurring in the workplace to their immediate supervisor, department director, dean, vice president or human resources officer within five days of the conviction. Within ten days of learning of such a conviction of any individual engaged in work under federal grants or contracts, Harvard is required to notify the relevant federal agency. Upon notification of a conviction, supervisors should immediately contact their local human resources office.

Alcoholic Beverages

Harvard University, consistent with the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, prohibits the consumption, possession, use and sale, and the provision or serving of alcoholic beverages by and to persons less than 21 years of age.

All University employees are prohibited from consuming alcohol or being under the influence of alcohol during work hours or in the workplace (except that it will not be a violation of this policy for an employee to engage in the responsible consumption of alcohol at approved social functions held during work hours or in the workplace, provided that the use of alcohol has been permitted in these circumstances.) Under no circumstances may a Harvard employee consume or be under the influence of alcohol while operating Harvard vehicles or equipment. The consumption of alcohol will not constitute a mitigating circumstance when it contributes to the violation of University policies.

Vice Presidents, deans, and heads of administrative units have the authority and responsibility to govern the use of alcohol in areas they control, and to require measures to ensure that at events where alcohol will be served only individuals of legal age will have access. Those hosting such events must take reasonable steps to ensure that the acquisition, distribution and consumption of alcohol otherwise complies with applicable law and University policy.

Federal, State and Local Laws and Sanctions

In addition to disciplinary sanctions imposed by the University, all students, faculty, and staff should be aware that federal, state, and local laws treat the illegal use, possession, sale, distribution, or manufacture of drugs or alcohol as serious crimes. Penalties range according to the type of substance, amount in possession and/or distributed, and the number and type of previous violations. Conviction can lead to imprisonment, fines, assigned community service and the loss of student grants and loans. Courts do not lift prison sentences in order to allow those convicted to attend college or continue their jobs. While a number of examples are included below, students and employees should be aware that not all alcohol and drug related crimes and penalties are listed here.

Alcoholic Beverages:

Cities and towns in Massachusetts prohibit public consumption of alcohol and impose fines for violations. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation prohibits public consumption of alcohol in its parks; likewise, the Metropolitan District Commission, which has jurisdiction over land along the Charles River, also prohibits public consumption of alcohol. In addition, many cities and towns in Massachusetts, including Boston, have local ordinances and regulations that prohibit public consumption of alcoholic beverages on private property without the property owner’s consent. Under Massachusetts law, a person who violates ordinances regarding public consumption of alcohol is subject to arrest without a warrant.

Massachusetts laws punish sale or delivery of alcoholic beverage to persons under twenty-one with a fine of up to $2,000 and six months imprisonment, or both. It is also against the law in Massachusetts for persons under 21 years of age to purchase or attempt to purchase alcoholic beverages, or to make arrangements to purchase or procure such beverages. The law prohibits willfully misrepresenting one’s age or transferring, altering, defacing, or otherwise falsifying identification offered as proof of age, with the intent of purchasing alcoholic beverages. These violations are punishable by fines of up to $300 and may include imprisonment.

In addition, a social host may under certain circumstances be held liable for injuries caused by a guest who, having consumed alcohol on the host's premises does harm to himself or herself or to a third party. If the guest is under 21 and the host knew or reasonably should have known that he or she was furnishing alcohol to a minor, or that he or she was allowing a minor to possess alcohol on the host’s premises, the host will be held responsible for injuries or damage to the minor or to third parties caused by the minor's alcohol-influenced actions. Further, even if the guest was not a minor, a social host will be liable for injuries to third parties if the host knew or should have known that the guest was intoxicated, but nevertheless gave him or her, or permitted him or her to take, an alcoholic drink.

In Massachusetts, anyone, including drivers and passengers, possessing an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of any motor vehicle is subject to a fine of between $100 and $500. A first conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol will result in a fine of $500–$5,000, a one-year revocation of the person’s driver’s license, up to two and a half years in prison, and mandatory alcohol rehabilitation. Additional offenses are punishable by more stringent sanctions.

Controlled Substances:

Massachusetts has varying criminal penalties relating to controlled substances or drugs. In general, violations involving narcotic and addictive drugs and drugs with high potential for abuse carry heavier penalties. A full list of controlled substances as defined by Massachusetts law can be found here:

The possession, use, or distribution of controlled substances also is prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act. There are strict penalties for drug convictions, including mandatory prison terms for many offenses. A full list of controlled substances as defined under federal law can be found here:

Possession, Manufacture and Distribution:

Possession of controlled substances is illegal without valid authorization. While penalties for possession of a controlled substance are generally less than those for its manufacture and/or distribution, under both Massachusetts and federal law, illegal possession with intent to manufacture or distribute is subject to the same penalties as illegal manufacture or distribution. Further, illegal possession of relatively large quantities of any controlled substance ordinarily will be considered possession with intent to distribute. “Manufacture” of a controlled substance includes production, preparation, propagation, compounding, conversion, or processing, while “distribution” is the actual or attempted transfer of a controlled substance.

Under both state and federal laws, penalties for possession, manufacture, and distribution are much greater for second and subsequent convictions. Many laws dictate mandatory prison terms and require that the full minimum term be served. Note that researchers of controlled substances are subject to registration requirements as possession of controlled substances is illegal unless pursuant to a valid prescription or authorized by appropriate registration.

Sale and possession of “drug paraphernalia” also is illegal in Massachusetts. Under federal and state law, participation in drug-related criminal activity can result in seizure or forfeiture of personal property and other assets utilized in conjunction with or stemming from the proceeds of the illegal activity. In addition, conviction of a drug-related offense may entail civil fines and denial or revocation of certain licenses and benefits.

Persons convicted of drug possession under state or federal laws also are ineligible for federal student grants and loans and/or for participation in federally sponsored research grants or contracts for up to one year after the first conviction, and up to five years after the second; those convicted of distributing drugs lose these benefits for five years after the first conviction, for ten years after the second, and permanently after the third.

Please note that although Massachusetts law now permits adults aged 21 or older to possess and consume marijuana under certain circumstances, federal law still prohibits the possession, use, or distribution of marijuana, including for medical purposes. Thus, even if possession or use of marijuana would be permitted under Massachusetts law, it remains prohibited on Harvard property or as part of a Harvard activity.

Additional Criminal Penalties Under Massachusetts Law

In Massachusetts, offenses subject to particularly severe punishments include: (1) second or subsequent convictions for manufacture or distribution of controlled substances; (2) illegal manufacture, distribution, or possession of, with intent to manufacture or distribute, phencyclidine (PCP), cocaine, or methamphetamine; (3) “trafficking” in marijuana, cocaine, heroin, morphine or opium (defined as manufacture, distribution, cultivation, possession with intent to manufacture or distribute, or importation into the state of more than 50 pounds of marijuana or 14 grams of cocaine or heroin); (4) distribution or possession with intent to distribute controlled substances to persons under 18 years of age; and (5) second or subsequent offenses of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The Massachusetts Controlled Substances Act also provides penalties for being present at a place where it is known that heroin is kept and for being “in the company of” a person known to possess heroin. Anyone in the presence of heroin thus runs the risk of a drug conviction.

Additional Criminal Penalties Under Federal Law

Under the federal Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, more commonly known as the Controlled Substances Act, the distribution of any controlled substance by a person at least 18 years old to a person under 21 years of age is punishable by twice the penalty (for a first offense) or three times the penalty (for a second offense) otherwise provided, and includes a mandatory minimum one-year prison term (except for a first offense involving less than 5 grams of marijuana) and mandatory life imprisonment without release for a third conviction. These increased penalties also apply to distribution of any controlled substance in or within 1,000 feet of a school, college, playground, or public housing facility, and within 100 feet of a youth center, public swimming pool, or video arcade.

Severe penalties apply for those convicted of engaging in a “continuing criminal enterprise” to violate the Controlled Substances Act. Engaging in a “continuing criminal enterprise” means that a person: (1) commits a felony under the Act; (2) that felony is undertaken with 5 or more others “managed” by the person; and (3) the person obtains substantial income or resources from the felonious conduct.

Federal law also increases prison sentences for manufacture and distribution of controlled substances if death or serious bodily injury results from their use. In addition, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, a person who intentionally kills someone or causes the intentional killing of an individual in the course of manufacturing, distributing, importing or exporting large amounts of certain controlled substances or in the course of a continuing criminal enterprise may be sentenced to death. Any person who intentionally kills or causes the intentional killing of a law enforcement official while committing a federal drug felony or attempting to avoid apprehension, prosecution, or service of a prison sentence for such a felony also may be sentenced to death.

Health Risks Associated with Alcohol and Drug Use

Alcohol use, even in low doses, significantly can impair judgment and coordination. Low to moderate doses increase the incidents of aggressive acts, including spouse and child abuse. Moderate to high doses can severely alter a person's ability to learn and remember information. Very high doses can cause respiratory depression and death. Repeated use can lead to dependence. Sudden cessation of use can produce withdrawal symptoms and can be life-threatening. Long-term use of large quantities can lead to permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and liver. Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol syndrome. In addition, research indicates that children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk of becoming alcoholics.

The abuse of drugs/controlled substances can result in a wide range of health problems. Illicit drug use can result in drug addiction, death by overdose, death from withdrawal, seizure, heart problems, liver disease, and chronic brain dysfunction. Other problems associated with illicit drug use include psychological dysfunctions such as memory loss, thought disorders (i.e. hallucinations, paranoia, and psychosis) and psychological dependency. Women who use drugs during pregnancy may give birth to infants who are drug-addicted and may have health complications.

Commonly Abused Drugs and Their Effects

The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the health effects of particular controlled substances.

Narcotics (including Heroin):

  • Initial euphoria followed by drowsiness and nausea
  • Constricted pupils, watery eyes, dazed look
  • Overdose may produce slow, shallow breathing, clammy skin, loss of appetite and weight, and possible death

Depressants (including Barbiturates, Tranquilizers):

  • Relaxed muscles, calmness, drowsiness
  • Confusion, disorientation, slurred speech
  • Overdose may produce shallow breathing, clammy skin, weak and rapid pulse, coma, and possible death


Stimulants (including Cocaine, Methamphetamine):

  • Increased heart and respiratory rate, elevated blood pressure, decreased appetite
  • Blurred vision, dizziness, insomnia, anxiety
  • High doses can cause physical collapse, irregular heartbeat, stroke, and possible death

Hallucinogens (including LSD, PCP, Mushrooms):

  • Illusions and hallucinations
  • Confusion, panic, anxiety, depression, and poor perception of time and distance
  • Respiratory failure, death due to careless behavior

Cannabis (including Marijuana, Hashish):

  • Increased heart rate, bloodshot eyes, dry mouth and throat, and increased appetite
  • Interferes with memory, speech, coordination, and perception of time
  • Increases risk of lung cancer, weakened immune system, and affects reproductive system

The health consequences of alcohol abuse and substance use may be immediate and unpredictable, such as fatalities associated with alcohol poisoning and drug overdose, or more subtle and long term, such as liver and brain damage associated with the prolonged use of alcohol.

In addition to health related problems, alcohol abuse and substance use are associated with financial difficulties, interpersonal conflicts, domestic violence, deterioration of the family structure, accidental injuries or fatality, and may significantly impact academic and work performance.

For more detailed descriptions of commonly-abused drugs, including specific health effects and treatment options, refer to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Resources for Harvard Students and Employees

Educational Programs for Undergraduates

The Office of Alcohol & Other Drug Services (AODS) has developed a comprehensive substance abuse prevention program that seeks to reduce the negative consequences associated with alcohol and drug use for Harvard University students. Through educational programs, intervention services, policy initiatives and coordination with treatment providers, AODS collaborates with students and staff to promote the health and safety of all members of the Harvard community. Programs and services include mandatory alcohol education for all incoming freshmen and student-athletes, training for residential staff, student-leaders, and members of various student clubs and organizations, a robust peer education program, and evidence-based interventions for students who present at-risk for Substance Use Disorder.

For additional information on drug and alcohol abuse education programs visit the Center for Wellness and Health Promotion website at

Resources for Advice and Counseling

Because of the considerable health risks involved in drug and alcohol use, resources are available to assist the Harvard community in understanding and dealing with drug and alcohol abuse problems. As noted above, students can learn about the dangers of substance abuse and get information about treatment and counseling options from the Office of Alcohol & other Drug Services (AODS). The Behavioral Health and Counseling and Mental Health offices at Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) offer assistance to both employees and students; employees also may learn about the dangers of substance abuse and obtain information about treatment and counseling options available to the Harvard community through The Center for Wellness and Health Promotion, and Harvard's Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The Harvard University Police Department is available to assist any member of the University community in an emergency; emergency health services are also available at HUHS.

Harvard Resources

Harvard University Health Services (HUHS)


Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services (students, faculty, staff, and members of the larger Harvard University community), HUHS


Behavioral Health, HUHS


Counseling & Mental Health Services, HUHS


Employee Assistance Program

877-EAP-HARV (877-327-4278)

University Police Department

Urgent: 617-495-1212

Longwood: 617-432-1212

Business: 617-495-1215

Online contact form:

External Resources

Alcoholics Anonymous


Al-Anon/Children of Alcoholics


Women for Sobriety


Smart Recovery Self-Help Network


Narcotics Anonymous


Cocaine Anonymous