College is an exciting time in young adults’ lives. For many, it’s the first time they’re on their own and forced to be more independent. With this new-found independence comes a lot of responsibility though. College parties and underage drinking are prevalent at some schools. It is essential that parents talk to their children ahead of time about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. This doesn’t just include the physical and mental health risks, but also the possible long-term consequences it could have on their career and future.
College Drinking by the Numbers
College students between the ages of 18 and 24 are at risk for many effects of alcohol whether they choose to drink or not. Even if the student isn’t drinking, they may still be involved in an accident or incident with someone who has. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):
- 599,000 students are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol, and 1,825 college students die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries.
- Approximately 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
- Around 3,360,000 college students drive under the influence of alcohol.
- A 2014 study found that 59.8 percent of full-time students (ages 18-22) drank in the past month, 37.9 percent engaged in binge drinking, and 12.2 percent engaged in heavy drinking.
Students are often tempted to try alcohol because the opportunity is there, they want to fit in with peers, they feel pressured to drink, or they’re curious. Educating teens and young adults about the dangers of drinking – as well as how to make healthier choices and say no – may decrease their risk of engaging in drinking, especially underage.
Starting the Conversation
Having an open, honest relationship with children can support drinking prevention efforts. When your children feel comfortable coming to you about difficult topics or discussing their problems or concerns, it can be easier to steer them in the right direction.
Find out what your teen knows about drinking and addiction and what they may have questions about. If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t make one up – do the research together to find the answer. They should have a solid understanding about how alcohol affects their body and mind.
Use teachable moments to start the conversation. Pay attention to stories on the news, what’s happening in television shows and movies, and what you see in the community around you. This can be a simple way to segue into a discussion about drugs and alcohol, the dangers, and making healthier choices.
It can also be a good idea to look into the school’s substance use policies and ensure your child knows how this can impact them. If they play a sport, are on a scholarship, are part of a campus group, or are studying for a particular career, being caught drinking can have serious effects. They may lose funding, be suspended from or kicked off of a team, or asked to leave a group. Having underage drinking or other legal ramifications on their record could also impact their ability to get a job in the future.
Talk to your child about their goals and aspirations. Getting caught up with the wrong crowd or participating in drinking can throw them off track. Drinking can result in missing classes and doing poorly on tests due to lack of studying, poor concentration, or struggling to remember information. They may also not put as much time and effort into their studies because they’re too focused on drinking or are suffering from a hangover or other negative effects. Some majors (and scholarships or financial aid) require a certain grade point average (GPA), and a few bad test scores or grades can really bring this down.
Encourage your teen to get involved so that they have something to keep them occupied in a healthy way. Being part of a service organization or team sport can instill good habits and life skills and discourage drinking. Having an on-campus job can help as well. Try to get your child involved in things that will support their future and challenge them so they stay actively engaged. Too much downtime or taking courses that are too easy can make it tempting to spend more time socializing and drinking than hitting the books.
Get to know their friends, their roommate, and who they spend time with. Hopefully they are associating with people who are a good influence and encourage them to do the right thing. If they are hanging out with questionable people, be honest and share your concerns. Discuss different ways to make friends and find people who share common interests.
Talk about how to say no if they are offered drugs or alcohol. College is supposed to be a fun time in their life, and they can go to parties and meet new people, but it’s important that they’re staying safe as well.
- Discuss ways to turn down a drink offer.
- Make sure they know not to go to parties alone.
- They should always have a reliable way home or know how to get home.
- They should pour their own drink and not let it out of their sight.
- Talk about responsible drinking and setting limits if they do choose to have a drink.
Getting Help for Alcoholism or Alcohol Abuse
You can educate your children and teach them about the dangers of drinking, but ultimately they will make their own decisions. In some cases, this may unfortunately lead to problems with alcohol. If you notice that your child has developed an alcohol problem, take steps to get them into treatment. A inpatient or outpatient program at Above It All can help them to overcome alcoholism and get back on track. They will learn strategies for maintaining their sobriety and establishing healthier routines to reduce risk of relapse. They will also be able to develop a strong support system to hold them accountable, help them deal with challenges they face, and encourage them to stick with recovery. Alcoholism does not have to put a damper on their future – help is available and recovery is possible.
- U.S. Department of Education, Countdown to School Success. Accessed April 9, 2016.
- Healthychildren.org, Back-to-School Tips. Accessed April 4, 2016.
- Youth.gov, Back to School! Accessed April 21, 2016.
- Usa.gov, Back to School Guide for Teachers and Parents. Accessed April 7, 2016.