Tell your college-age sons and daughters that more than 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related accidents each year, and nearly 600,000 are injured while drunk.1 Tell them that over half a million are assaulted by another student under the influence, and 97,000 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.2
“College drinking is sometimes still viewed as a harmless rite of passage,” says one researcher in the field of campus behavior. “That’s particularly dangerous given that research shows this age group is much more impulsive even when alcohol’s not involved.”3 Most at risk are incoming freshmen, student athletes, and those involved in fraternities and sororities.
The good news is that drinking behavior can be influenced by parents. In one study, those graduating high school seniors and college freshmen who believed that their parents knew and cared about their drinking drank less — and less often — than those who thought their parents didn’t know or care about their alcohol use.4 Another study found that parental monitoring, parental attitudes toward drinking, and parent-child communication all impacted students’ alcohol consumption.5 Students whose parents raised the topic of alcohol throughout the college years — not just prior to freshman year — drank significantly less than classmates whose parents never raised the subject.6
Parents who want to be particularly proactive might also:
- Pose questions that get youngsters thinking (while you listen rather than preach): How can you stay safe at a party with alcohol flowing? What will you do if a drunk friend gets behind the wheel and expects you to climb aboard? How will you decide how much alcohol is enough? How will you handle a roommate who drinks to excess? Do you know your school’s rules and consequences for alcohol violations?
- Let them know that the norm on campuses is moderate — not abusive — drinking, so that they don’t imagine the only way to fit in is by getting drunk.
- Acknowledge the force of peer pressure, and how simply holding a glass in their hand — whether it contains tonic or soda or sparkling water with a slice of lime — might mollify classmates who want everyone to get plastered along with them.
- Suggest that adding ice to drinks will dilute alcohol’s potency and reduce the likelihood of intoxication.
- Designate a responsible driver in advance if there’s going to be a need for transportation.
With 16 the average age teens start drinking, why wait until the approach of college to begin these conversations?
- Hingson, Ralph W., et al. Magnitude of and trends in alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18-24, 1998-2005. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2009 Jul; (16): 12–20.
- Dr. James Murphy, quoted in Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, October 2013.
- Wetherill, R. & Fromme, K. “The effects of perceived awareness and caring, family motives and social motives on alcohol use by high school and first semester college students.” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2007, 21, 147-154.
- Turrisi, Robert et al. (2013). “Examining the role of parents in college student alcohol etiology and prevention.” In: Interventions for addiction: Comprehensive addictive behaviors and disorders. Elsevier Inc., San Diego: Academic Press, pp. 865-873.
- Doumas, Diana M., et al. “A randomized trial evaluating a parent based intervention to reduce college drinking.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, July 2013, 45:1, 31–37.