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10 Precautionary Steps Parents Can Take

Talking with your student before he or she sets foot on a college campus can be instrumental in preventing excessive drinking and drug-related abuse. And, if your young child has college aspirations, it may already be time to ask: What can I do to help my child avoid substance abuse?

Talk the Talk

Before college talks between high school students and parents are pivotal in preventing abusive drinking in college. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that drinking in college has now become ritual, with over 80 percent of students drinking alcohol, and nearly half binging within the past two weeks.

There has been a lot of pressure on colleges to find ways to “fix” this growing problem, to curtail binge drinking which is defined as having five or more drinks in a short period of time. While colleges hold a certain amount of responsibility, parents play a key role in stemming the alarming increase.

The Numbers are Shocking

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that some “1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries.” According to the Institute’s College Drinking Fact Sheet, 19 percent of college students met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. Moreover, college students have higher binge-drinking rates than fellow young adults who are not in college. Approximately one-fourth of college students report academic problems caused by excessive drinking such as missed classes or falling grades.

A recent study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs reinforces that pre-college talks between high school students and parents are critical in preventing excessive drinking in college, the younger you start educating and influencing your children, the better. Even before today’s high school students set foot on a college campus, they are more prone to excessive drug and alcohol use.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) reports, “Three-fourths of high school students (75.6 percent, 10 million) have smoked cigarettes, drunk alcohol or used another drug, and nearly half of high school students (46.1 percent, 6.1 million) are current users.”

10 Precautionary Steps Parents Can Take

The prevention of college age abuses and of raising a child who becomes alcoholic or drug dependent or worse is an ongoing process in which parents should—and can—play an active role. Here are 10 significant points to know and actions parents can take, some beginning at the elementary school level and some worth repeating before your son or daughter leaves the nest to attend college: 

  1. Monitor and moderate your own drinking and prescription drug use. You are your child’s—young, preteens, and teenagers alike—role model.  In short, practice what you preach.
  2. Talk about the dangers of binge drinking and explain what it is.
  3. Emphasize the importance of slow, intelligent alcohol consumption and provide examples of addiction. Use current superstars who are in the news as examples of the disasters of addiction, be they from alcohol or prescription or illegal drugs.
  4. Give your young child choices in as many areas as possible having nothing to do with drug and alcohol use so he gets used to making his own decisions.
  5. Encourage and praise independent thinking and actions, i.e., not going along with the group.
  6. Talk about the risks of doing what others suggest or when friends pressure. Again, use examples from the news to make your point and do so whenever the opportunity presents itself.
  7. As your child gets older, make hard and fast rules about drinking—ones you insist be followed. Let the consequences be known for when a rule is broken.
  8. Watch for behavioral changes in your child—difficulty sleeping, change in eating habits, less care in personal hygiene or grooming, or a change in friends.
  9. Know your child’s friends and friends’ parents.  If you don’t feel good about some of his friend choices, take the time to find out why he likes or dislikes someone new.
  10. Be vigilant about where your child spends his time and with whom and about how much money she’s spending and from where she’s getting it. Don’t ever look the other way and make excuses because you can’t bear to think your child might be drinking or “borrowing” your pills.

Showing a keen interest may annoy an older child or your college bound student, but will go a long way in encouraging smart decisions about substance use when he or she is away from home. As a parent, you can work to keep your son or daughter from being part of these frightening statistics. 

Also of interest: 5 Steps to Prepare Your Toddler for College 


LaJeunsse, Sara. "Parents Can Help Their Children Avoid Alcohol Pitfalls During Transition from High School to College." ScienceDaily. 16 Apr. 2013. Web.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Accompanying Statement by Former Congressman Jim Ramstad, Chairman of CASA’s National Advisory Commission on Substance Use among America’s High School Age Teens. N.p., 29 June 2011. Web.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. College Drinking. N.p.: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2013. Http:// National Institutes of Health. Web. 

Turrisi, R., Mallett, K. A., Cleveland, M., Varvil-Weld, L., Abar, C., Scaglione, N., & Hultgren, B. (2013). “An evaluation of timing and dosage of a parent based intervention to minimize college students' alcohol consumption.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 74, 30-40

Copyright 2013 by Susan Newman

College Confidential