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
- 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
- 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
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:
II. Parents of a College Freshman-Staying Involved
- where Greek systems dominate (i.e., fraternities,
- where athletic teams are prominent
- located in the Northeast
III. Parents of a College Student Facing an Alcohol-Related
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Make certain that they understand how alcohol use can lead to
date rape, violence, and academic failure.
- 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
- 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
- If your son or daughter is concerned about his or her alcohol
consumption, or that of a friend, have them check out
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
- 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.