College Drinking: What Parents Need to Know (cont.)

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

The proportion of college students who drink varies depending on where they live. Drinking rates are highest in fraternities and sororities, followed by on-campus housing. Students who live independently off-site (e.g., in apartments) drink less, while commuting students who live with their families drink the least.

Important Facts for Parents

A number of environmental influences working in concert with other factors may affect students' alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol use is more likely to occur in colleges:

  • where Greek systems dominate (i.e., fraternities, sororities)
  • where athletic teams are prominent
  • located in the Northeast
II. Parents of a College Freshman-Staying Involved
  • Pay special attention to your son's or daughter's experiences and activities during the crucial first 6 weeks on campus. With a great deal of free time, many students initiate heavy drinking during these early days of college, and the potential exists for excessive alcohol consumption to interfere with successful adaptation to campus life. You should know that about one-third of first-year students fail to enroll for their second year.
  • Find out if there is a program during orientation that educates students about campus policies related to alcohol use. If there is one, attend with your son or daughter, or at least be familiar with the name of the person who is responsible for campus counseling programs.
  • Inquire about and make certain you understand the college's "parental notification" policy.
  • Call your son or daughter frequently during the first 6 weeks of college.
  • Inquire about their roommates, the roommates' behavior, and how disagreements are settled or disruptive behavior dealt with.
  • Make sure that your son or daughter understands the penalties for underage drinking, public drunkenness, using a fake ID, driving under the influence, assault, and other alcohol-related offenses. Indicate to them that you have asked the college/university to keep you informed of infractions to school alcohol policies. [For alcohol policies on college campuses see www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/policies]
  • Make certain that they understand how alcohol use can lead to date rape, violence, and academic failure.
III. Parents of a College Student Facing an Alcohol-Related Crisis-Getting Assistance
  • Be aware of the signs of possible alcohol abuse by your son or daughter (e.g., lower grades, never available or reluctant to talk with you, unwilling to talk about activities with friends, trouble with campus authorities, serious mood changes).
  • If you believe your son or daughter is having a problem with alcohol, do not blame them, but find appropriate treatment.
  • Call and/or visit campus health services and ask to speak with a counselor.
  • Indicate to the Dean of Students, either in person or by email, your interest in the welfare of your son or daughter and that you want to be actively involved in his or her recovery despite the geographic separation.
  • If your son or daughter is concerned about his or her alcohol consumption, or that of a friend, have them check out www.alcoholscreening.org for information about ongoing screening for problems with alcohol.
  • Pay your son or daughter an unexpected visit. Ask to meet their friends. Attend Parents' Weekend and other campus events open to parents.
  • Continue to stay actively involved in the life of your son or daughter. Even though they may be away at college, they continue to be an extension of your family and its values.