How to Talk to Your College Student About the Dangers of Drugs and Alcohol

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College is an exciting time for students as they leave home and embark on a new phase of life. But along with making new friends and adjusting to classes comes the reality of drug and alcohol dangers.

Although your child may not have drunk alcohol or used drugs in high school, college is a whole new world. Away from the watching eyes of parents, they may be more inclined to accept offers of drugs and alcohol. The National Institutes of Health research shows about 32 percent of college students binge drink and 38 percent get drunk. Marijuana and cocaine use is also on the rise. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports 1.2 million college students drank alcohol and over 700,000 smoked marijuana.

What can you do as a parent of a college student to help prevent your child from falling prey to the dangers of drugs and alcohol?

Start a Dialogue

Before your college student leaves for school, start a conversation. Think about what you’d like to say and research the facts. Start by asking questions like what do they expect college parties to be like? Do they think they’ll try drinking? They may get defensive or respond with answers you don’t like. Let them talk. Listening is more effective than arguing with your teen.

Consider sharing your college experiences. Hearing your hard-learned lessons may give them reason to pause when offered a drink or drugs.

Arm Them with the Facts

Just like you teach them the dangers of texting and driving or the consequences of unprotected sex, they need to know the hard facts of using alcohol and drugs.

  • Drinking and doing drugs negatively impacts class attendance, grades, and your child’s safety and well-being.
  • Drugs found on college campuses include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, and prescription drugs (pain meds, stimulants, and sedatives).
  • Getting drunk leads to serious issues like DUIs, car crashes, violence, and sexual assault. The NIH states 97,000 students reported sexual assault or date rape associated with alcohol use.
  • There’s a first time for everything! According to SAMHSA, on an average day, over 1,300 college kids used an illicit drug for the first time.

Teach Them to be Safe

When someone hands you a drink, you can never be sure it isn’t spiked with rohypnol (aka the “date rape drug”) or other drugs. The only drink that’s safe is one you’ve gotten yourself. Whether it’s a beer, soda, or bottle of water, teach them never to accept a drink from someone else, even if they know the person.

Marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs can be laced with dangerous chemicals that lead to debilitating side effects, overdosing, and even death. These days, you can never be sure what’s really in the drugs.

Provide Alternatives

Many campuses have organizations, clubs, and activities for students who don’t want to drink or do drugs. Encourage them to check out alternatives to the party scene, but don’t forbid them to go to parties. This is a great time for them to learn how to advocate for themselves and choose to be substance-free.

Offer Them Support

Reinforce that you’ll always be there to help them, even when they make mistakes. Inform them of campus resources, like counseling services and addiction help. Talk to them about their social life, the party scene, and new friends.

You can’t completely control what your student does at college, but you can arm them with facts about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Continue to check in, offer support, and keep the dialogue going!