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
- 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
- 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.
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 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,
- where athletic teams are prominent
- located in the Northeast
- 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.
In 1999, a majority of college and university presidents identified alcohol abuse as one of the greatest problems facing campus life and students. A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges presents a series of recommendations to college presidents, researchers, parents, and students to deal with this continuing public health problem in a scientific and sensible way. We encourage parents to continue to educate themselves by referring to and using the following materials prepared by the Task Force.
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