We are in the middle of that season—the time when parents need to talk to even the most straight-laced students about drinking. With prom, end of year parties, and summer around the corner, it just makes sense.
As you have these conversations this spring, you might want to begin to broach the subject of alcohol use and abuse in college.
Some parents look back on college tailgating or parties and fondly remember having a few beers. But the reality of college drinking is that 40% of students engage in heavy binge drinking, according to numerous national surveys.
In addition, even casual drinking can lead to severe consequences for students in violation of campus and local alcohol policies. And college drinking doesn’t have the same natural limits students have while in high school—no parents waiting up or neighbors keeping an eye out.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol is the most commonly used drug among youth in the U.S. It is responsible for more than 4,700 deaths among underage drinkers each year. Although the legal drinking age is 21, people aged 12-20 account for 11% of all alcohol consumed in the U.S.
Alcohol Abuse Is a Problem Among College Students
Sometimes college drinking is done responsibly, but studies show that many college students abuse alcohol. In fact, approximately one-third of all college students are believed to meet the qualifications for alcohol abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines alcohol abuse as a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, relationships, or ability to fulfill responsibilities at work or school. Alcohol abuse may involve drinking in dangerous situations and can lead to alcohol dependence.
Alcohol Policies Vary by Campus
Every college has its own policy on alcohol use by students. Some colleges actively discourage alcohol use by asking students to abstain from drinking and severely punishing students who have alcohol on campus or are found to be intoxicated. Other schools are more permissive, allowing students of legal drinking age to possess alcohol in campus housing, serving beer at football games, and even operating campus pubs.
Entering freshman should become familiar with the alcohol policy and consequences for violators before they start school. Each year college freshman are arrested and expelled for alcohol related violations.
Campus Consequences Can Be Severe
Because every college has its own alcohol policy, the consequences for a single alcohol-related offense can vary from campus to campus. Minor consequences include warnings, fines, and parental notification. For more severe or repeat offenses, students can be kicked out of university housing, suspended, or sent for alcohol evaluation and treatment. The most extreme punishment is expulsion.
Students Can Face Legal Charges
In addition to punishments determined by the college, students can face legal charges according to the laws of the city or county. Common grounds for citation include underage drinking, supplying alcohol to minors, and driving under the influence.
Even if all the drinking takes place on campus, students are subject to local laws regarding alcohol consumption. Every year, college students found in violation of local laws are ticketed, charged, assessed fines, and even face court-ordered treatment or jail time.
Parents May Not Be Notified
The law does not allow colleges to share a student’s grades, health records, or disciplinary history with parents. However, colleges and universities are legally allowed to notify parents when an underage student has been drinking or using drugs.
College policies on contacting parents vary; in recent years, many schools have increased parent notifications in an attempt to reduce alcohol problems on campus. Parents should ask about the policy at their child’s school.
Students Have a Choice
In the college search process, students can seek out schools whose alcohol policies match their own views. Those who prefer a social environment where issues of alcohol use and abuse are uncommon may seek out dry campuses or find universities with “healthy living” dorms, where all residents agree to avoid smoking, drug, and alcohol use. Ultimately, the decision to drink (or not) is up to each student.
Students should learn about campus policies and the prevalence of alcohol on campus when they research prospective colleges. If they do choose alcohol-tolerant campuses, it’s important to be aware of the schools’ policies about alcohol, as well as city and county laws that apply. In addition, parents should know how their child’s college handles issues of alcohol possession and consumption.