Fall is an exciting time of year, especially if your son or daughter is entering their first year of college.

As it was for us, our kids’ first year at college will expose them to new subjects and theories, as well as different people with different cultures.

Of course, there are some actions and behaviors – be they cultural or not – that we would rather not have our children exposed to.

For example, the alcohol and drug use that accompanies the on-campus lifestyle is a topic we should discuss with our kids. But we can’t do it alone, especially while our daughters and sons are away.

Decidedly, a two-prong approach from us as parents and the colleges our children plan to attend can make the difference between a successful journey in higher education or a wasted college career due to drinking and other illicit behavior that can accompany drinking.


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), states that drinking1 has become a ritual on college campuses.

College and binge drinking has evolved from its more traditional territories such as fraternities, sororities and athletic teams, to where it now permeates nearly every aspect of college life.

Additionally, the NIH study states that an increasing number of freshmen seem prepared for their college-level alcoholic encounters from pre-established drinking experience and patterns that took place in their high school days or earlier.

Of course, with the abundance of alcohol on today’s campuses, any prior drinking experience an incoming freshman might have, in many cases, will intensify.


In hard numbers, almost 60 percent of college students, ages 18–22, drank alcohol in the past month, while nearly 2 out of 3 students binge drank at the same time.

In their findings, the NIH maintains the following:


About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.3


About 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.


About 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.


According to college reports, close to 1 in 4 college students have missed or are falling behind in class, score poorly on exams or papers, and receive lower grades overall.

Further studies highlight that students who consume three or more alcoholic drinks each week are six times more likely to receive poor grades on tests and projects and five times more likely to miss a class.


Certain aspects of college life, such as unstructured time, the widespread availability of alcohol, inconsistent enforcement of underage drinking laws, and limited interactions with parents and other adults, can intensify the problem.

Also, keep in mind that a freshman in the first six weeks of school is vulnerable to heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences because of expectations and social pressures at the start of the year.

Other factors such as strong Greek systems and prominent athletic programs tend to attract students, especially freshmen, to drink more than students at other types of schools found within a college campus.

As far as living arrangements go, alcohol consumption is highest among students living in fraternities and sororities and lowest among commuting students who live with their families.


There are two types of interventions present on today’s college campuses used to combat underage drinking: The first is individual-level intervention; the second is environmental-level intervention.

Individual-level intervention examines higher-risk groups on campus, including members of the Greek system as well as athletics. First year students are also part of this higher-risk group.

The impetus of this intervention is to change students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavior related to alcohol so that they drink less, take fewer risks, and experience fewer harmful consequences.

Categories of individual-level interventions include:

  • Education and awareness programs
  • Cognitive–behavioral skills-based approaches
  • Motivation and feedback-related approaches
  • Behavioral interventions by health professionals

Environmental-level strategies focus on the campus community and student body as a whole. This strategy seeks to change the campus and community environments in which student drinking occurs.

Another goal of this strategy is to reduce the availability of alcohol. Research shows that reducing alcohol availability has a direct effect on consumption. In fact, after environmental-level strategies have been implemented, alcohol consumption is cut dramatically, as well as other harmful consequences that can affect the campus population as a whole.


You’d be surprised how far our influences can go as parents. If we’ve been diligent and informative, there is less chance our college-bound children will imbibe in illicit substances, particularly alcohol.

Your duty in this is to play an active role in your child’s higher education, especially if the kids are gone.

Phone them frequently to make certain they’re not partying too much. Just the sound of their voice (and yours in return) can be assurance that all is well.

As for those who have yet to send their children off to college, Psychology Today2 offers these tips:

  1. Monitor and moderate your own drinking and prescription drug use. You are your child’s—young, preteens, and teenagers alike—role model.  In short, practice what you preach.
  2. Talk about the dangers of college and binge drinking – and explain what it is.
  3. Emphasize the importance of slow, intelligent alcohol consumption and provide examples of addiction. Use current superstars who are in the news as examples of the disasters of addiction, be they from alcohol or prescription or illegal drugs.
  4. Give your young child choices in as many areas as possible having nothing to do with drug and alcohol use so he/she gets used to making his own decisions.
  5. Encourage and praise independent thinking and actions, i.e., not going along with the group.
  6. Talk about the risks of doing what others suggest or when friends pressure: Again, use examples from the news to make your point and do so whenever the opportunity presents itself.
  7. As your child gets older, make hard and fast rules about drinking—ones you insist be followed. Let the consequences be known for when a rule is broken.
  8. Watch for behavioral changes in your child, e.g. difficulty sleeping, change in eating habits, less care in personal hygiene or grooming, or a change in friends.
  9. Know your child’s friends and friends’ parents.  If you don’t feel good about some of his friend choices, take the time to find out why he/she likes or dislikes someone new.
  10. Be vigilant about where your child spends his/her time and with whom, about how much money he/she’s spending and from where she’s getting it. Don’t ever look the other way and make excuses because you can’t bear to think your child might be drinking or “borrowing” your pills.

With a combination of your own tactics and those implemented by your child’s college, it’s more likely this semester that your son or daughter will earnestly focus on their studies more than their next beer or bong hit.

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  1. College Drinking, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved 2016.
  2. Off to College, Off to Party, Off to Drink and Drink and…, Psychology Today. Retrieved 2016.


The Start of College and Binge Drinking: Take Action Now