Updated: Aug 16, 2022
When your freshman starts college this fall, they will undoubtedly be invited to many parties where alcohol is served (or overflowing). To be sure, the drinking habits of new college freshmen vary widely. Some freshmen arrive to campus never having had a sip of alcohol, while others arrive with well-established alcohol consumption habits. But let’s be clear, college drinking is a big deal! While some think drinking in college is a harmless rite of passage, the reality is that alcohol consumption and abuse can potentially have devastating effects on your freshman student. That’s why talking to your freshman about the risks of alcohol consumption and abuse before they leave for college is very important.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that each year:
· About 1,500 college students (between the ages of 18 and 24) die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including car accidents;
· 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking;
· 1 in 5 college women experience sexual assault during their time in college, and a majority of the assaults involve alcohol or other substances; and
· About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing or falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.
See Consequences of College Drinking (collegedrinkingprevention.gov); see also Fall Semester—A Time for Parents To Discuss the Risks of College Drinking | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov).
As for Black college students in particular, the National Institute for Health published a study in 2019 showing that Black students were “more likely to abstain from alcohol use and, when they drink, engage in fewer binge-drinking episodes and consume a lower quantity of alcohol than their White peers.” Racial Discrimination, Binge Drinking, and Negative Drinking Consequences among Black College Students: Serial Mediation by Depressive Symptoms and Coping Motives - PMC (nih.gov). But despite the comparatively lower alcohol consumption rate of Black college students, a 2020 study showed that Black students experiencing incidents of racial discrimination were more likely to show depressive symptoms and engage in problem alcohol consumption. See Racial discrimination, depressive symptoms, ethnic–racial identity, and alcohol use among Black American college students. - PsycNET (apa.org). In other words, while Black college students drink comparatively less than their White peers and are less inclined to binge-drink, Black students will turn to alcohol to cope with racial discrimination they experience in college.
The NIAAA stresses the importance of parents talking to their freshmen kids about the hazards of alcohol consumption and abuse before they start college. The “first 6 weeks of freshman year are a vulnerable time for harmful and underage college drinking and for alcohol-related consequences of student expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year,” the NIAA states. Talks with parents are important because “students who abstain from drinking often do so because their parents discussed alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them.” Fall Semester—A Time for Parents To Discuss the Risks of College Drinking (nih.gov).
When you are ready to talk to your freshman about the risks of consuming alcohol, you can check out the approaches for doing so that are advised by NIAAA:
· Talk with students about the dangers of harmful and underage college drinking – whether it be its impact on their classwork, relationships, or safety – or its effects on their friends or college community;
· Make sure your student reads and understands the school’s alcohol policy – as well as knowing other consequences for breaking the law – prior to the start of the college academic year;
· Provide ongoing support to your student during the school year, especially the first six weeks of the fall semester when they are especially vulnerable;
· Learn and support the college’s alcohol prevention efforts, such as encouraging your student to participate in any alcohol-education programs;
· Understand the college’s rules for notifying parents in the event of a problem;
· Make sure your student knows the signs of alcohol overdose or an alcohol-related problem, and how to get help for themselves or a friend or roommate (see Get Help for Alcohol-Related Issues (collegedrinkingprevention.gov), or ask the college for on-campus resources).
Start the conversation now! This way you and your freshman have plenty of time to engage on this important topic before you drop them off at college.
For more helpful information on talking to your student about alcohol, check out the NIAAA website here: NIAAA Brochures for Parents (collegedrinkingprevention.gov).