Fall Semester—A Time for Students and Parents to Revisit Discussions About College Drinking
As college students arrive on campus this fall, it's a time of new experiences, new friendships, and making memories that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately for many, it is also a time of excessive drinking and dealing with its aftermath—vandalism, violence, sexual aggression, and even death.
According to research summarized in a College Task Force report to the NIAAA, the consequences of excessive drinking by college students are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many parents realize. And these consequences affect students whether or not they drink.
Statistics from this report, which were updated recently, indicate that drinking by college students aged 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,825 student deaths, 599,000 injuries, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.
Early Weeks Are Critical
As the fall semester begins, parents can use this important time to help prepare their college-age sons and daughters by talking with them about the consequences of excessive drinking.
Some first-year students who live on campus may be at particular risk for alcohol misuse. During their high school years, those who go on to college tend to drink less than their noncollege- bound classmates. However, during subsequent years, the heavy drinking rates of college students surpass those of their non-college peers.
This rapid increase in heavy drinking over a relatively short period of time can contribute to serious difficulties with the transition to college.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the first 6 weeks of the first semester are critical to a first-year student's academic success. Because many students initiate heavy drinking during these early days of college, the potential exists for excessive alcohol consumption to interfere with successful adaptation to campus life. The transition to college is often difficult, and about one-third of first-year students fail to enroll for their second year.
Parents Can Help
During these crucial early weeks, parents can do a variety of things to stay involved. They can inquire about campus alcohol policies, call their sons and daughters frequently, and ask about roommates and living arrangements.
They should also discuss the penalties for underage drinking as well as how alcohol use can lead to date rape, violence, and academic failure.
Changing the Culture of College Drinking
The tradition of drinking has developed into a kind of culture—beliefs and customs—entrenched in every level of college students' environments.
Customs handed down through generations of college drinkers reinforce students' expectation that alcohol is a necessary ingredient for social success. These beliefs and the expectations they engender exert a powerful influence over students' behavior toward alcohol.
Customs that promote college drinking also are embedded in numerous levels of students' environments. The walls of college sports arenas carry advertisements from alcohol industry sponsors. Alumni carry on the alcohol tradition, perhaps less flamboyantly than during their college years, at sports events and alumni social functions. Communities permit establishments near campus to serve or sell alcohol, and these establishments depend on the college clientele for their financial success.
Students derive their expectations of alcohol from their environment and from each other, as they face the insecurity of establishing themselves in a new social milieu. Environmental and peer influences combine to create a culture of drinking. This culture actively promotes drinking, or passively promotes it, through tolerance, or even tacit approval, of college drinking as a rite of passage.
Resources Are Available
For parents who want to talk to their college-age sons and daughters about the consequences of college drinking, a variety of helpful resources are available from NIAAA. A special guide for parents offers research-based information, including the need to stay involved during freshman year and how to get assistance if faced with an alcohol-related crisis.
Copies of all Task Force materials, including the parents' guide, may be ordered at http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/niaaacollegematerials/parentbrochure.aspx or by contacting the NIAAA Publications Distribution Center, P.O. Box 10686, Rockville, MD 20849-0686.
A new resource to help college officials address harmful and underage student drinking, CollegeAIM, is now available. The centerpiece of CollegeAIM is a comprehensive and easy-to-use matrix-based tool that will help inform college staff about alcohol interventions and guide college staff to evidence-based interventions. CollegeAIM resources are available at http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/CollegeAIM.
Fall 2015 Issue: Volume 10 Number 3 Page 24-25