As your son or daughter navigates through the college years, he or she will have many opportunities for personal growth. With these opportunities comes the responsibility to make decisions that will affect his or her future.
One key area of decision-making will be about alcohol. Parents need to be aware that students, especially in their first year away from home, are at a higher risk for alcohol-related problems than almost any other population. The leading cause of death among college students is alcohol-related incidents.
While most students are well-informed and will make good decisions, there are things that you can do to help guide your student.
10 Tips for your student's college years:
Understand the risks and consequences of drinking, including personal, academic, and legal problems. Make sure your student knows them, too.
Show you care about his/her safety, academic success, and overall life skills. Communicate clearly about your expectations regarding alcohol use.
Be straightforward, using facts and dispelling myths. Avoid scare tactics – they don’t work.
Stress to your student that drinking alcohol to the point of impairment or intoxication is risky. Talk about the factors that may increase their risk, including mixing energy drinks with alcohol. More information about risks and how to reduce them is included in the brochure here.
Consider the messages you are sending by your own behavior and what you say. Do not “glorify” alcohol use by sharing alcohol-related stories from your own college days.
Help your student understand the right to a safe academic environment. If the behavior of other students interferes with this right, encourage him/her to confront the issue. If your student lives on campus, residence hall staff can help.
Encourage your son or daughter to step forward if he/she sees a fellow student in trouble with alcohol. If someone is passed out or unconscious, call 911 or residence hall staff immediately.
Continue the conversation throughout your student’s college career. The challenges will continue, and he/she needs to understand that many students do not use alcohol. Help your son or daughter understand how to deal with peer pressure.
Encourage your student to learn about and use campus resources. Know where to go for help.
Recognize the signs that your student may be having alcohol or drug-related problems, and intervene. Warning signs that may indicate problems include:
- A drop in academic performance; missing or skipping classes
- Moodiness, defensiveness, or silence when trying to talk with him/her
- Frequent requests for more money (Note: This could also be a warning sign for problem gambling behaviors.)
- Physical signs, like fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, jumpiness
- Keep in mind that these are also indicators of other issues, so consider the whole picture, ask questions, and listen carefully.
Starting the conversation
Remember this is a conversation, not a lecture. It is easier if you can put it in the context of a broader conversation about college life.
Ask and listen:
- What have you heard about the amount of drinking that takes place on the campus? (It is important for you to understand that in most cases what students hear is exaggerated. They need to understand that not all students are drinking.)
- How do you think this will affect you and your decision-making?
- What do you think you should do if your roommate drinks and parties a lot? What if this affects your ability to study?
- What will you do if you go to a party and all the drinks are alcoholic?
- What kind of exit plan can you make ahead of time in case a situation gets out of hand?
- If you find someone passed out, what will you do?
As parents, you may not be able to keep your young adult from drinking. Students need to know the behaviors that may increase the risk of alcohol-related harm and what the consequences are. This knowledge can also be an important tool for them to help their peers who are drinking. Learn more about behaviors that may lead to risk.
You are still important
Health surveys of college students have consistently shown that they still rely on their parents for health information. Although you may be miles away, you still influence your child’s decision-making, and you are trusted for factual information. You can help your child make responsible decisions and avoid choices that will negatively affect his/her future. Be available. Talk. Most important: listen.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call the Recovery Helpline at 1-866-789-1511.