Every year during the third week of October, colleges and universities across the country rally to raise awareness of the issues surrounding alcohol use on campus. This year, National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week falls on October 19th through the 25th, and the urgency is high.
Underage drinking has declined over the past decade, but binge drinking is on the rise, especially amongst college students. Consider the findings of the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:
- 58.0% of full-time college students ages 18–22 drank alcohol in the past month compared with 48.2% of other persons of the same age.
- 37.9% percent of college students ages 18–22 reported binge drinking in the past month compared with 32.6% of other persons of the same age.
- 12.5% percent of college students ages 18–22 reported heavy alcohol use in the past month compared with 8.5% of other persons of the same age.
For the past 25 years, National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week has created an opportunity for discussion and action around these alarming statistics. At colleges across the nation, students and administrators develop programs to encourage personal safety around alcohol, combating a drinking culture that surrounds football games, parties and other features of college life.
The consequences of drinking amongst college students are dire. Researchers estimate that each year:
- 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.
- 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
- 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
- Roughly 20% of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
- About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.
Seeds of alcohol use planted in high school
Research from SAMHSA shows that excessive drinking amongst college students often starts in high school, even though alcohol use is illegal under the age of 18. One in six high school students binge-drink, with 191,000 adolescents ages 12-17 classified as "heavy alcohol users, and ten percent of young adults ages 18-25 also falling into the category of heavy alcohol users. More than seven million young people, ages 12 to 20, said they drank in the past month, including 4.5 million who binged.
Underage drinking can alter the physiology of the developing brain in permanent ways and set the stage for addiction issues later in life. Binge drinking amplifies the damage, yet out of control drinking has become the goal for many underage drinkers. One survey by Loyola Marymount University found that the No. 1 reason kids reported drinking is not to be social but “to pass out.”
How parents can help
Parents can be huge influencers for their kids when it comes to establishing a safe relationship with alcohol. In fact, research shows that students who skip drinking do so because their parents talked to them about the negative effects of alcohol.
Parents should also delay the age at which children start drinking. The earlier that kids experiment with alcohol, the more prone they are to develop a substance use disorder with alcohol or other substances. Experts encourage parents to keep the message simple with kids and have a zero tolerance policy around any alcohol use.
Here are some other tips:
- Communicate with your kids about the risks of alcohol use, starting in elementary school, but don’t use fear tactics. Just be straightforward.
- Help your kids establish a healthy lifestyle, including adequate sleep.
- Create a nurturing home life and stay actively involved with your child's daily activities.
- Talk to your kids about how drinking can be an escape hatch for dealing with problems, and encourage them to address those stressors directly instead.
- Prepare your future student before he leaves for college about the pressures he'll experience around drinking, especially in the first six weeks of his Freshman year.
- Keep an open line of communication with your child, even after she leaves for college, letting her know that she can confide in you about any anxieties and issues.
- Be honest about your own alcohol use in the past and present, and don’t send a message to your kids that alcohol is a coping mechanism.
- Make sure your kids know the signs of alcohol overdose or other alcohol-related problems and understand the steps to take for help.
- Learn about your child’s college’s alcohol prevention and emergency intervention policies. Click here for a directory of policies of thousands of schools across the country, from the NIAAA.
- Make sure your student reads and understands his school’s alcohol policies and the consequences of breaking the law.
For more information on how you can protect your child from the dangers of alcohol, here are some helpful websites to refer to: