Alcohol & The College Experience
For many young adults, going away to college represents the first time they have truly been on their own. During their childhood and into their teens, most young people are under the supervision of their parents. They were provided with rules and guidelines to control their behavior. At college, however, they must look to themselves when making decisions about what they will and will not do. Parents often worry that, if left to their own devices, college students might make poor decisions regarding their behavior. One way this worry manifests itself into reality is in the use or abuse of alcohol at college.
Some statistics may help elucidate the extent of alcohol abuse by college students. While 58% of full-time college students use alcohol, only about 48% of other young people drink. Similarly, college students are more likely to engage in binge drinking or heavy alcohol use than others of the same age group. About 20% of college students meet the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder. These statistics about alcohol at college can be scary for some parents to contemplate. Death from drunken driving, assault, date rape and negative academic impacts are all related to the use of alcohol at college. These problems are of great concern to the parents of these college students.
The College Experience
Alcohol use among college students is common knowledge. In fact, some universities have a reputation of being “party schools”. One could even go so far as to say that college students are expected to use and/or abuse alcohol. The problem is exacerbated in the case of students who already have a drinking habit before they go to college. About 25% of college students report negative academic consequences due to their use of alcohol.
Why is alcohol such a problem for college students? There are many reasons. First, college students have unstructured time on their hands. They may also be living in dorms with other students who are using or abusing alcohol. With minimal or no supervision, these bored students will naturally be drawn to spend time with their peers and will probably be drawn to use alcohol with them. Fraternities and sororities often have alcohol available to members and guests, resulting in higher alcohol consumption for students living in these residences. The first several weeks at college are a time of transition for college students, making them more vulnerable to be drawn to the abuse of alcoholic beverages. Unsurprisingly, students who live at home and commute to college are much less likely to use alcohol.
This problem is made worse by the simple fact that teenagers and young adults are “hard-wired” to engage in risky behavior. Studies show that those areas of the brain that deal with social interaction and emotion mature before those areas that deal with controlling behavior. This explains why peer pressure can so strongly affect young adults, while advice about risky behaviors from parents and other adults has such little impact. This difference in the maturation of different parts of the brain is seen in all mammals, perhaps because it enables younger animals to explore and try new (hopefully, though not always, successful) behaviors. It should also be noted that young adults are more likely to engage in risky behavior in the presence of their peers.
For parents reading this post, it may seem as if there is nothing you can do. When your child came home from college for the holiday season, you may have become aware that they’ve begun drinking alcohol at college, possibly that their alcohol drinking has started to cross the line into alcohol abuse, dependence, or addiction. If you are thinking that the combination of the college environment and their risk-taking behavior is beyond your ability to influence, don’t give up.
The college or university your son or daughter attends probably has programs in place to help students avoid the abuse of alcohol. These programs include educational programs and interventions by professional counselors or therapists. If your child is using alcohol, investigating these programs to see how effective they are is a good idea. Many colleges and universities also have policies in place to limit the availability of alcohol on campus, reducing the likelihood that students will consume alcohol.
Most importantly, parents should talk openly with their college-age children about alcohol use and the associated risk. Believe it or not, your child does care about what you have to say. And even if it may not be apparent, your child probably respects what you have to say, though they might try to hide it. Demands and threats aren’t what is needed here. Rather, an open discussion about alcohol will allow your child to appreciate the value of your experience. Finally, parents should consider their own behavior. If your child sees you drinking to excess or abusing alcohol in some other way, any warnings or advice you give them regarding the use of alcohol will seem empty and deceptive.
Talk To Your Kids About Drinking Alcohol at College
The prevalence of alcohol at colleges and universities, combined with the likelihood of risk-taking behaviors pose a serious problem for college students. The impact of alcohol use and alcohol abuse represent a serious threat to the health and academic success of students. Parents, however, should not simply throw in the towel and hope for the best. Instead, actively engage your children in discussions about alcohol, and make good use of the resources available to help your kids make good decisions about the use of alcohol.