Having a child pursue a dream career in a good college is a highlight of the parenting journey. The event is usually a culmination of years spent teaching and supporting them. However, this moment can be clouded or ruined by drinking.
It’s wise to worry about your child’s drinking habits while they’re in college. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), college students tend to drink more than people of the same age who aren’t in college.
How can you prepare your kid for college life so they can enjoy their early adult years without developing a drinking problem? Follow along as addiction specialists at Mayflower Recovery take a closer look at college drinking patterns, the short- and long-term dangers of college drinking, and advise how to prepare your child for this aspect of college life.
Understanding College Drinking Culture
Over 80% of students drink alcohol in college, including many young people under the legal drinking age of 21.
If your child has never experimented with alcohol before, they may start to partake if they live in student housing or join a sorority, fraternity or sports team. Many students with an established drinking problem in high school increase their intake in college.
Reports by SAMHSA show 53% of female students drink every month compared to 51% of male students. Many students drink heavily and experience the health and social consequences of alcohol use in the first six weeks of their freshman year.
Binge drinking is especially rampant in college. It occurs when a male drinks five or more drinks at a time and when females drink at least four drinks. Many students who don’t drink throughout the week usually binge drink during the weekend. Around 35% of male students and 31% of female students binge drink.
Another common alcohol use pattern in college is high-intensity drinking, whereby a student drinks more than 10 drinks on one occasion. 19% of male students and 6% of females report high-intensity drinking.
Dangers of College Drinking
To uninformed young people, drinking during parties and other college events may seem like a harmless and even expected activity. However, alcohol seriously affects one’s physical, mental and social health.
Accidents and Injuries
Alcohol slows the brain, affecting its ability to control bodily movements. Thus, a drunk person is more likely to feel dizzy, slouch and stagger. They may also find it challenging to analyze and react to situations, making it more likely for them to drown, burn themselves, bump into things and fall.
The lack of coordination and slow response time caused by alcohol increases the chances of a drunk student getting into a fatal accident.
There’s a high correlation between drinking and aggression. A drunk person is more likely to misinterpret social situations and react angrily. Thus, a drunk person can easily cause or get involved in fights.
Data on the dangers of binge drinking shows over 696,000 college students experience physical assault from peers who’ve been drinking.
Alcohol plays a significant role in over 50% of college sexual assaults, including rape.
Predators often pick victims at parties, bars and other areas where alcohol is consumed because they know a drunk person is less likely to put up an effective fight against violent sexual advances. Your child may also be sexually assaulted by someone they trust if they can’t remove themselves from an uncomfortable situation while drunk.
Since alcohol lowers inhibitions and increases aggression, your child may sexually assault someone else when drunk.
Alcohol lowers decision-making abilities, which means your child is more likely to engage in unprotected sex and contract a sexually transmitted disease when intoxicated.
Students may skip classes or miss assignments when nursing a hangover or recovering at a hospital. Your child may be unable to keep up with reading and fail exams if they develop a drinking habit.
An underage student caught drinking or any student who exhibits bad behavior while drunk may get arrested and charged. They may also break the college’s code of conduct and be suspended or expelled.
Your child may need to be admitted to the hospital if they are sick, injured or get into an accident while drunk. Heavy drinking can cause alcohol poisoning, leading to vomiting, seizures, heart attack, brain damage, coma and even death.
College drinking is also linked to multiple mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and suicide.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a severe mental health condition that makes an individual seek and consume alcohol despite the detrimental effects. 13% of college students experience AUD yearly. Treatment for AUD involves medication and intensive therapy to control the urge to drink.
How to Prepare Your Child for College Drinking
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), college students who don’t drink are primarily influenced by their conversations with their parents about alcohol. Thus, speaking to your child about drinking before and during their college years is crucial.
While you can have a long meeting about drinking right before they leave for college, using organic opportunities to talk about alcohol improves the quality of your conversation, encourages participation and increases the chances of your child listening to your advice.
Establish Family Drinking Values
Family drinking values guide how your child views alcohol even outside the confines of the home. Having a steady reference point for alcohol use helps them drink appropriately and gives them the courage to say ‘No’ when peers try to coerce them to exceed their boundaries.
Having family drinking values doesn’t mean putting a blanket ban on alcohol consumption. Since you can’t reinforce such rules when your child is away at college, create a set of values emphasizing self-awareness, control and responsibility.
Educate your child on practical ways to remain within the legal drinking limits, e.g., how many drinks to have in one go and how to lower their blood alcohol content before walking or driving home.
Provide resources that will enhance their safety. For example, encourage them to share their location when they go to parties so you know they’re safe. You can also pay for taxi rides to and from parties to ensure your child gets to their accommodations safely.
Teach them how to reject drinking offers assertively and who to call if they don’t feel safe.
Remind your college-age child they’ll bear the consequences of heavy or underage drinking. Emphasize the importance of personal responsibility.
Teach Situational Awareness
The environment plays a big role in your child’s decision to drink. The places they go and people they hang out with can affect their ability to drink responsibly and stay safe when under the influence.
Teach them how to properly evaluate friends. For example, they should seek other companions if many in their group binge drink or remain intoxicated outside social events. It’s important to have a friend who stays sober during parties who’ll ensure everyone gets home safe.
Your child should know when to accept and reject invitations. For example, a party is likely to be unsafe if it’s held in secret, in a secluded area or in bars that don’t check IDs.
They should also know how to maintain drink safety by not drinking beverages without labels and not leaving their drinks unattended.
Keep Communication Lines Open
When talking about alcohol with a college student, avoid drawing a line in the sand. Allow them to give their opinion and reasonably adjust your expectations according to their views. If your college-age child can trust you with their questions and experiences, they’ll find it easy to approach you when they need help.
Mayflower Recovery provides resources for parents and college students who need assistance with unhealthy drinking habits. We can help you stage an intervention for your child who’s developed alcohol dependency while in college. We also have a state-of-the-art recovery center in Wilmington, Massachusetts, serving people of all ages from the greater Boston area. We help people detox from alcohol and other drugs before undergoing inpatient rehabilitation with the help of our addiction care team.
Contact us today to learn about programs that can help your child continue to enjoy college life even after developing a drinking problem.
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