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Fall Semester—A Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking

Infographic. High-risk drinking among college students. 1,825 deaths (footnote 1). 696,000 assaults (footnote 2). 97,000 sexual assaults/date rapes (footnote 2). 38% engage in binge drinking. (footnote 3).
(1) Hingson, r.w.; zha, w.; and Weitzman, e.r. “Magnitude of and trends in alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among u.s. college students ages 12 to 24.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs (suppl. 16): 12-20, 2009. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc2701090. Accessed december 14, 2015. 
(2) Hingson, r.; heeren, t.; winter, m.; et al. “Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among college students ages 12 to 24: changes from 1998 to 2001.” Annual review of public health 26:259-279, 2005. Available at: http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/media/mag_and_prev_arph_april_2005.pdf. Accessed december 14, 2015.
(3) Substance abuse and mental health services administration. 2014 national survey on drug use and health. Table 6.89B-binge alcohol use in the past month among persons aged 18 to 22, by college enrollment status and demographic characteristics: percentages, 2013 and 2014. Available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NS-DUH-DetTabs2014/NSDUH-DetTabs2014.htm#tab6-89b. Accessed december 14, 2015.

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 the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 58.0 percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month; 37.9 percent engaged in binge drinking (for males 5 or more drinks or for females 4 or more drinks at the same time or within a few hours of each other); and 12.5 percent engaged in heavy alcohol use (binge drinking on 5 or more days in the last month). These rates are higher than those for their non-college attending peers.

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 the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) indicate that drinking by college students ages 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,825 student deaths, 696,000 assaults by another student who has been drinking, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.

Early Weeks Are Critical

Although the majority of students come to college already having some experience with alcohol, certain aspects of college life, such as unstructured time, the widespread availability of alcohol, inconsistent enforcement of underage drinking laws, and limited interactions with parents and other adults, can intensify the problem.

The first 6 weeks of freshman year are a vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences because of student expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year.

Parents Can Help

An often-overlooked protective factor involves the continuing influence of parents. Research shows that students who abstain from drinking often do so because their parents discussed alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them. During these crucial early weeks, parents can do a number of things to stay involved.

Parents can help by:

  • Talking with students about the dangers of harmful and underage college drinking—such as the penalties for underage drinking, and how alcohol use can lead to date rape, violence, and academic failure.
  • Reaching out periodically and keeping the lines of communication open, while staying alert for possible alcohol-related problems.
  • Reminding students to feel free to reach out to them to share information about their daily activities, and to ask for help if needed.
  • Learning about the school’s alcohol prevention and emergency intervention efforts.
  • Making sure students know signs of alcohol overdose or an alcohol-related problem, and how to help.

Resources Are Available

For parents who want to discuss the consequences of college drinking with their sons and daughters, a variety of helpful resources are available from NIAAA at www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov.

These resources include a parents’ guide that offers research-based information plus helpful advice on choosing the right college, staying involved during the freshman year, and getting assistance if faced with an alcohol-related crisis.

The website also provides links to alcohol policies at colleges across the country, an interactive diagram of how alcohol affects the human body, and an interactive alcohol cost calculator.

For more information, visit: www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov

NIH Publication No. 16-5640
Updated October 2016