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Student Life

For Parents

Points For Parents Speaking With Students About Alcohol

Any parent who reads the newspaper or watches news on television has seen and heard tragic stories about the outcome of excessive drinking on campus. Parents are frightened by these stories and have every right to be.

We advise parents to talk with their students about the impact of high-risk drinking and the responsibilities to themselves and their community.

  • Set clear and realistic expectations regarding academic performance. Studies conducted nationally have demonstrated that partying may contribute as much of a student's decline in grades as the difficulty of his or her academic work. If students know their parents expect sound academic work, they are likely to be more devoted to their studies and have less time to get in trouble with alcohol.
  • Stress to students that alcohol is toxic and excessive consumption can be fatal. This is not a scare tactic. The fact is many students die every year from alcohol poisoning. Discourage dangerous drinking through participation in drinking games, fraternity hazing, or any other way.
  • Tell students to intervene when classmates are in trouble with alcohol. Nothing is more tragic than an unconscious student being left to die while others either fail to recognize that the student is in jeopardy, or fail to call for help due to fear of getting the student in trouble.
  • Tell students to stand up for their right to a safe academic environment. Students who do not drink can be affected by the behavior of those who do, ranging from interrupted study time to assault or unwanted sexual advances. Students can confront these problems directly by discussing them with the offender. If it fails, they should notify the housing director or other residence hall staff.
  • Know the alcohol scene on campus and talk to students about it. Students grossly exaggerate the use of alcohol and other drugs by their peers. Students are highly influenced by peers and tend to drink up to what they perceive to be the norm. Confronting misperceptions about alcohol use is vital.
  • Avoid tales of drinking exploits from your own college years. Entertaining students with stories of drinking back in "the good old days" normalizes this behavior. It also appears to give parental approval to dangerous alcohol consumption.
  • Encourage your student to volunteer in community work. In addition to structuring free time, volunteerism provides students with opportunities to develop job-related skills and to gain valuable experience. Helping others also gives students a broader outlook and a healthier perspective on the opportunities they enjoy. Volunteer work on campus helps students further connect with their school, increasing the likelihood of staying in college.
  • Underage alcohol consumption and alcohol impaired driving are against the law. Parents of college students should openly and clearly express disapproval of underage drinking and dangerous alcohol consumption. If parents themselves drink, they should present a positive role model in the responsible use of alcohol.

Talk with your student about alcohol. While parents may not be able to actively monitor students away from home, they can be available to talk and listen, and that is just as important. It can do more than help shape lives, it can save lives.

What Parents Need to Know About College Drinking

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

Annual High-Risk College Drinking Consequences

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: 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
  • Injury: 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.
  • Assault: More than 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • Sexual Abuse: More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • Unsafe Sex: 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had 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 drove under the influence of alcohol last year
  • Vandalism: About 11 percent of college student drinkers report that they have damaged property while under the influence of alcohol.
  • 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 five percent of four-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.

Parents: A Primary Influence

As a parent you continue to be a primary influence in your student's life. You are the 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 decision making involving your college-bound son or daughter:

Stay Involved

Pay special attention to your student'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 adaption to campus life. You should know that about one-third of first-year students fail to enroll for their second year.

  • Be familiar with the name of the person who is responsible for campus counseling programs.
  • Call your son or daughter frequently.
  • Inquire about their roommates, the roommates' behavior, and how disagreements are settled or disruptive behavior is dealt with.
  • Make sure that your student understands the penalties for underage drinking, public drunkenness, using a fake ID, driving under the influence, assault, and other alcohol-related infractions to school alcohol policies.
  • Make certain that they understand how alcohol use can lead to date rape, violence, and academic failure.

Getting Assistance

  • Be aware of the signs of possible alcohol abuse by your student (e.g., lower grades, never available to reluctant to talk with you, unwilling to talk about activities with friends, trouble with campus authorities, serious mood changes).
  • If you believe your student is having a problem with alcohol, do not blame them, but find appropriate treatment.
  • Call and/or visit the Office of Student Life, Substance Abuse Prevention Services, Health Services, and the Counseling Center.
  • Indicate to the Dean of Students, either in person or by email, your interest in the welfare of your student and that you want to be actively in his or her recovery.
  • If your student 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.
  • Attend Parents's Weekend and other campus events open to parents.
  • Continue to stay actively involved in the life of your student. Even though they may be away at college, they continue to be an extension of your family and its values.


For parents who want to talk to their college students about the consequences of college drinking, a variety of helpful resources are available.

The Task Force's award-winning website, features a guide along with links to alcohol policies at colleges across the country, an interactive diagram of the human body and how alcohol affects it, an interactive alcohol cost calculator, and the full text of all the Task Force materials.


College Drinking — "Changing the Culture"
Created by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), this website is your one-stop resource for comprehensive research-based issues related to alcohol abuse and binge drinking among college students.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism- A valuable resource for NIH data, brochures, fact sheets and other publications related to alcohol abuse.

Substance Abuse Prevention Services and Mental Health Services Administration
Substance Abuse Prevention Services and Mental Health Services Administration-Covers a broad range of topics such as depression, suicide prevention, faith based initiatives, etc. related to Substance Abuse Prevention Services.

The Higher Education Center
The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention: The Parent Connection addresses tough topics of discussion for parents to inititate with their college bound students and their university.

Pheonix House
Relevant information for parents transitioning college freshmen.

The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence
The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence- One stop shopping for the consumer, students and the media who want objective information, including statistics, interviews with medical/scientific experts and recommendations about drinking from leading health authorities.

College Parents of America
College Parents of America is the only national membership association dedicated to advocating and serving on behalf of current and future college parents.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Justice

(Information taken from