Underage Drinking in College: Prevention Tips for Parents

Father Son College
Throughout the month of April (Alcohol Awareness Month), Vanguard Communications is focusing on our social marketing work that helps prevent underage drinking. Visit our blog, Facebook and Twitter pages all month long for insights and information about underage drinking prevention.

As a parent of three young adults, I’m in the midst of helping my children navigate through their college years. What I am realizing is that parenting is a lifelong commitment. While I might not need to hold their hand to help them cross the street, I still need to figuratively hold their hand to help them make good decisions. One of the most important discussions to have with a young adult who is in college is about the risks of alcohol use. As a health communications professional, I know that keeping the discussion going through the college years can have a big impact on the decisions young adults make.

The facts are intimidating. According to research in the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 8.7 million underage youth reported using alcohol. Of these, about one in seven binge drink (drinking five or more drinks on one occasion). And young adults who are enrolled full-time in college are more likely to report drinking alcohol than their peers who are not in college. In the 2013 NSDUH, 60 percent of full-time college students reported drinking. Other research shows that about 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. One-third of freshmen do not enroll for a second year of college and drinking is a contributing factor.

What can parents do?

  • Call children often. The first six weeks on campus are particularly crucial. This is the time when students are adapting to college life, and alcohol may be readily available to them for the first time. Resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), like Talking With Your College-Bound Young Adult About Alcohol and The Sound of Your Voice, and Fall Semester—A Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), provide helpful information for parents.
  • Discuss the penalties for underage drinking, public drunkenness, using a fake ID, driving under the influence, assault and other alcohol-related offenses.
  • Make certain that they understand how alcohol use can lead to date rape, violence and academic failure. NIAAA’s College Drinking fact sheet has facts and statistics for the many risks associated with alcohol use by college students.
  • Look for signs of alcohol use, such as poor grades, missing classes or depression.
  • Know campus resources — such as counseling services, academic advising and health education — that can support a student who may be experiencing difficulties transitioning to college life.
  • Keep the conversation going through the year. According to a SAMHSA study, full-time college students often start using substances in June.

Too many parents believe drinking in college is a rite of passage, and don’t fully realize the risks involved. My kids were lucky. I knew the value of talking with them about difficult topics when they were younger. My open communication meant they could talk to me about alcohol and other substance use that was happening around them in their dorms or among friends. It can be difficult to start the conversation, but with resources like those above, parents can start talking with their college students and help protect them from the harmful effects of alcohol use.

Also read other posts on Alcohol Awareness Month