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CARE

College drinking: Tips to keep your kids safe

For some college students, partying becomes the priority and can put their academics and health at risk. 

Here are some sobering statistics:

  • More than 1,800 college students die from alcohol use per year.
  • Annually, 600,000 students are unintentionally injured while under the influence.
  • Almost 100,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape per year.
  • Annually, 100,000 students say they were too intoxicated to know if they had unprotected sex.
  • Each year, 150,000 students develop health problems related to alcohol use.
  • More than 3 million students have driven under the influence.
  • Five percent of four-year college students are involved with campus police due to drinking.
  • Thirty-one percent of college students met the criteria for alcohol use disorder.
  • Six percent of college students meet the criteria for alcohol dependency. 

So, what can parents do?

First, when choosing a college, learn about the campus alcohol policy. Ask:

  • How do you enforce underage drinking prevention?
  • Do you offer school-sponsored, alcohol-free events?
  • What procedures are in place if students get caught drinking or possessing alcohol?
  • Do you have alcohol and drug counselors on staff?
  • What types of counseling are available?
  • Are there alcohol-free dorms?

Living arrangements can influence drinking behaviors. Drinking rates are highest in fraternities and sororities and with students who live on campus. Rates are lower among students who live off campus and the least among students who live with their parents and commute to school. Find out who your child is living with, as students are more apt to drink if they live with other students who drink.

It is crucial to pay attention to how your child is adjusting, especially during the first six weeks on campus. He or she might begin to drink heavily due to new-found freedom and as a way to handle stress. This can interfere with their ability to adapt to campus life and meet all expectations and responsibilities. If he or she can't adapt, there is an increased risk of dropping out, especially if classes, homework and tests aren't priorities.

Make sure your child understands the penalties of underage drinking, driving under the influence and public drunkenness. There are legal consequences that can follow them throughout their lives. Some colleges don't notify parents if a student is caught under the influence or with alcohol if the student is 18 or older—that's why it's really important to stay involved in your child's life.

Talk to your child about health and safety risks. Drinking lowers inhibitions, and that can lead to more promiscuous behavior, unprotected sex and an increased risk for sexual assault and rape.

For some students who start drinking in college, drinking can become a part of his or her lifestyle that continues after graduating. Alcohol addiction is progressive. A student can start out drinking one night a week or during the weekend, but as the brain and body get used to alcohol, it can lead to drinking every day and drinking more. Over time, this can lead to liver and kidney disease, and even some cancers. Additionally, alcohol is a depressant and can make existing depression or other mental health issues worse.

Every student should understand how alcohol interacts with medications. Any prescription medicine can increase the risk of health issues and an accidental overdose.

Have open and honest conversations about drinking, and let your child know he or she should never be afraid to ask for help if college drinking—or any other concern—gets out of hand. There are resources and experts available to help.

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