Back-to-school season can be an emotional time for first-time college students and their parents. It’s also a time when young people are especially vulnerable to underage alcohol use and binge drinking.
Six Weeks of Danger
During the first six weeks of their freshman year, college students are at the highest risk for excessive drinking and alcohol-related consequences, including injury, violence and sexual abuse, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Binge drinking, defined as consuming four drinks for women and five for men within two hours, is a widely-reported problem on college campuses. Four out of five college students admit to underage drinking, according to NIAAA data. What’s more, almost 40 percent of the college students surveyed admitted to binge drinking during the previous 30 days.
Understanding the Consequences
Many college students may be unaware of the consequences of excessive drinking. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that 95 percent of all violent crimes on college campuses involve alcohol use by the assailant, victim or both.
According to data released by Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), a company that manufactures alcohol testing technologies for use in criminal cases, students between the ages of 18 and 23 have a 21 percent higher rate of drinking violations than their older clients.
Lou Sugo, AMS vice president of sales and marketing, says this data is “especially troubling for this age group” because alcohol violations can have long-term consequences for young people. "Those consequences can create barriers to education and employment for the rest of their lives, as well as the high risks for assault, sexual abuse and drunk driving,” he said.
Excessive alcohol use can have even more devastating consequences: each year, 1,825 college students aged 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related injuries, including motor accidents. An additional 599,000 college students receive non-fatal alcohol-related injuries, including alcohol poisoning, according to NIAA. And about a quarter of college students report academic consequences of alcohol use, due to their missing classes, falling behind or doing poorly on exams.
Talk to Your Kids
So, what can parents do to protect their college-bound children? First and foremost, communication is crucial. Experts suggest parents talk to their kids about safe alcohol use before they even begin the college application process. They also recommend parents stay particularly involved throughout the first six weeks of college.
It’s also important to know the possible signs of alcohol abuse, which may include:
- Lower grades
- Reluctance to talk about their social lives
- Issues with campus authorities
- Potential mood changes
If you are concerned about your child’s alcohol use, take action. Help him find proper treatment, call and/or visit campus health services, attend a parents’ weekend and/or speak with the Dean of students.
For extra support, the NIAA provides a list of resources for parents here.
Additional Reading: University of Michigan to Notify Parents of Repeat Alcohol Offenses
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