What Parents Need to Know About College Drinking

In April 2002 a special Federal Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism issued its report titled A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges. The Task Force was composed of college presidents, alcohol researchers, and students. The report was the culmination of a 3-year, extensive analysis of research literature about alcohol use on college campuses, including:

  • the scope of the college drinking problem
  • the effectiveness of intervention programs currently used by colleges and communities
  • recommendations for college presidents and researchers on how to improve interventions and prevention efforts

The purpose of this brochure is to highlight practical information from A Call to Action that parents can use in choosing a college for their son or daughter, and to help parents better understand campus culture. The full report of the Task Force and additional supporting documents are available at www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov.

A Snapshot of Annual High-Risk College Drinking Consequences

What do we know about the extent and impact of alcohol abuse on college campuses? The recently published data compiled below illustrate that each year the consequences of college drinking are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many Americans realize. It is also important to remember that these consequences may affect your son or daughter whether or not they drink.

  • Death: 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
  • Injury: 500,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.
  • Assault: More than 600,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • Sexual Abuse: More than 70,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • Unsafe Sex: 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 have unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.
  • Academic Problems: 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.
  • Health Problems/Suicide Attempts: More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use.
  • Drunk Driving: 2.1 million students between the ages of 18 and 24 report driving under the influence of alcohol last year.
  • Vandalism: About 11 percent of college students report that they have damaged property while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Property Damage: More than 25 percent of administrators from schools with relatively low drinking levels and over 50 percent from schools with high drinking levels say their campuses have a "moderate" or "major" problem with alcohol-related property damage.
  • Police Involvement: About 5 percent of 4-year college students are involved with the police or campus security as a result of their drinking. An estimated 110,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are arrested for an alcohol-related violation such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.
  • Alcohol Abuse and Dependence: 31 percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6 percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence in the past 12 months, according to questionnaire-based self-reports about their drinking.
Parents: A Primary Influence

As a parent you continue to be a primary influence in your son's or daughter's life. You are key in helping them choose the right college so that they get the best education possible. At the same time, you also need to ensure that when they go off to college they live in a safe environment. There are three distinct stages in which you, as a parent, contribute in critical ways to the decisionmaking involving your college-bound son or daughter:

I. Parents of a High School Student-Choosing the Right College
  • As you examine potential colleges, include in your assessment inquiries about campus alcohol policies.
  • During campus visits, ask college administrators to outline in clear terms how they go about enforcing underage drinking prevention, whether the school sponsors alcohol-free social events, what other socializing alternatives are available to students, what procedures are in place to notify parents about alcohol and substance abuse problems, what counseling services are available to students, and how energetic and consistent the follow-up is on students who exhibit alcohol abuse and other problem behaviors.
  • Inquire about housing arrangements and whether alcohol-free dorms are available.
  • Ask whether the college/university employs student resident advisors (RAs) or adults to manage/monitor dormitories.
  • If there are fraternities and/or sororities on campus, inquire about their influence on the overall social atmosphere at the college.
  • Ask if the school offers Friday classes. Administrators are increasingly concerned that no classes on Friday may lead to an early start in partying on the weekends and increased alcohol abuse problems.
  • Find out the average number of years it takes to graduate from that college.
  • Determine the emphasis placed on athletics on campus and whether tailgating at games involves alcohol.
  • Find out the number of liquor law violations and alcohol-related injuries and deaths the campus has had in previous years.
  • Finally, consider the location of the college and how it may affect the social atmosphere.

Influence of Living Arrangements on Drinking Behavior


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