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Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse

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Talking to Your First-year Student

Before your son or daughter leaves for his or her first-year of college, there are some helpful messages a parent can communicate.  One message is to refute persistent myths:

Myth # 1: Heavy drinking and partying are part of the college experience.

Fact: While stereotypical scenes from Animal House and other movies often come to mind when people think about college, the reality of life as a college student is very different for most students. Most college students drink moderately, if at all. The heavy drinking depicted in the media is actually typical only of a minority of students. Most college students make responsible decisions about the use or non-use of alcohol.

When students come to college with the idea that heavy drinking is the way to fit in and make friends in college, they are more likely to make such high-risk choices. The following reality check may correct that misperception.

On a survey conducted in April 2005, Viterbo students reported the following responses regarding alcohol usage:

  • 82 percent reported had not missed a class due to alcohol or drug use during the current academic year.
  • 45 percent reported consuming no alcohol during the previous week
  • 69 percent reported consuming 0-4 beverages during the previous wee
  • 63 percent reported consuming 0-4 alcoholic beverages at the last party they attended.

Sharing these "true norms" with your college student can give him or her a more realistic expectation of college life and help a student continue to make healthy choices during college years.               

Myth #2: If parents drank when they were young, they can't expect their college student not to drink. If parents share their own experiences about drinking, it will encourage their son or daughter to experiment.

Fact: It is up to individual parents to decide what or how much information they share with their son or daughter. Sharing alcohol-related experiences realistically, both the positive and the negative experiences, may open the channel of communication.

If a parent did chose to experiment with alcohol when he or she was younger, chances are good there is at least one embarrassing or painful moment that resulted because of that decision. Parents sharing their personal information  should be sure to include these negative consequences. Avoid presenting tales of youthful drinking exploits as entertaining or funny stories.

Whatever parents decide to share about their personal use, it is important to be clear about expectations for their sons and daughters. Parents who assume their college students know what is expected are often surprised.  Communicate expectations explicitly.

For many parents, bringing up the subject of alcohol is no easy matter. Take some time to think through the issues to discuss before initiating the conversation. Also, think about and plan for predictable questions. Choose a relaxing time to talk. Remember, this is a conversation not a lecture.

Myth # 3: Only college women have to worry about sexual assault.

While most victims of sexual assault are women, it does happen to men too. In addition, it is most often young men who face assault charges. Sexual assault charges are felony charges that change lives. It is important that parents talk to their sons and explain that is illegal to have sex with an impaired individual, including an individual impaired by alcohol or other drugs. The vast majority of college sexual assaults are alcohol-related.

Nationally, sexual assaults are disproportionately high among first-year college students. First-year students need to hear the following messages from many fronts to minimize the odds of sexual assault:

  • Communicate clearly if you are not interested in a sexual relationship.
  • Go out with friends, stay with friends, and leave with friends.
  • Don't leave a drink unattended or accept an open drink from someone you don't know well.
  • Make a deal with friends to watch out for each other.  
  • Never "pair off" with someone you just met at a party or social event, even if the person is a "friend of a friend."
  • Avoid secluded, dark places.
  • Abstain from alcohol when in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.
  • If you drink, drink moderately. More than a couple drinks can reduce inhibitions, cloud judgment, and leave you unable to effectively communicate or resist assaults.
  • Lock doors and windows.
  • Know where emergency phones are and how to use them.
  • Share your schedule with people you trust; people should generally know where you are.

Myth # 4: College and underage drinking is really no big deal. Everybody does it, and no one really gets hurt.

Fact: While the rates of alcohol usage among college students are generally exaggerated, the consequences of college drinking remain significant. Students can experience consequences whether or not they drink. According to the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, the following are some of the potential negative consequences:

Death: 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each ear from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.

Injury: 500,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.

Assault: More than 600,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted under the influence of alcohol.

Sexual Abuse: More than 70,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of sexual assault or date rape; most of these situations involve alcohol.

Unsafe Sex: 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 have unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to sex.

Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking.