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The College Experience: Things You Can Do

August 08, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Most recent graduates of Falmouth High School and Falmouth Academy are headed for college campuses around the country, an exciting and challenging experience. It’s important for you and your teen to understand the drinking and drug culture that is prevalent on college campuses and for you to have the knowledge and tools to help your son or daughter have a safe and healthy experience. 

Substance abuse, including heaving drinking, binge drinking, non-medical use of prescription pills, and marijuana continues to be a problem on college campuses in the U.S. As mentioned in recent articles, substance abuse in young adults can cause serious health problems, interfere with academic studies and sports, and, unfortunately, lead to accidents, legal issues, and sexual harassment and abuse. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “An often overlooked preventive factor involves the continuing influence of parents. Research shows that students who choose not to drink often do so because their parents discussed alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them.”

The following information is from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

As a parent you continue to be a primary influence in your son's or daughter's life. You are key in helping them choose the right college so that they get the best education possible. At the same time, you also need to ensure that when they go off to college they live in a safe environment. 

Choosing the Right College

Like many parents and students you may be doing research on colleges and universities. You've probably looked into academics, course offerings, athletic facilities, housing conditions, and the school’s reputation

During your research, it's essential to remember a key issue, one that influences college students' quality of life every day: the culture of drinking at colleges in the United States.

An "Animal House" environment may seem exciting to students at first, but nothing affects health, safety, and academic performance more than a culture of excessive drinking. Many of the negative consequences associated with college alcohol abuse affect students who themselves are not drinking-and these are serious consequences: sexual assault, violence, vandalism, loss of sleep, and caring for friends and roommates in life-threatening states of alcohol poisoning.

There are a number of ways to investigate whether the schools you're considering are taking this problem seriously. Be sure that each school has created solid alcohol policies and is enforcing underage drinking laws. For alcohol policies on college campuses go to CollegeDrinking.gov for a list of colleges by state.

Parents of High School Students

As you examine potential colleges, include in your assessment inquiries about campus alcohol and drug policies. During campus visits, ask college administrators to outline in clear terms how they go about enforcing underage drinking and drug prevention, whether the school sponsors alcohol-free social events, what other social activities are available to students, what procedures are in place to notify parents about alcohol and substance abuse problems, what counseling services are available to students, and how energetic and consistent the follow-up is on students who exhibit alcohol abuse and other problem behaviors.

Inquire about housing arrangements and if alcohol-free dorms are available; ask if the college employs student resident advisors or adults to manage or monitor dormitories. And, if there are fraternities and sororities on campus, inquire about their influence on the overall social atmosphere at the college. 

The proportion of college students who drink varies depending on where they live. Drinking rates are highest in fraternities and sororities, followed by on-campus housing. Students who live independently off-site (e.g., in apartments) drink less, while commuting students who live with their families drink the least.

A number of environmental influences may affect a student’s alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol use is more likely to occur in colleges:

  • Where Greek systems dominate (i.e., fraternities, sororities)
  • Where athletic teams are prominent
  • Located in the Northeast

Parents of a College Freshman

Pay special attention to your teen’s experiences and activities during the crucial first six weeks on campus. With a great deal of free time, many students initiate heavy drinking during these early days of college, and the potential exists for excessive alcohol consumption to interfere with successful adaptation to campus life. 

Find out if there is a program during orientation that educates students about campus policies related to alcohol use. If there is one, attend with your son or daughter, or at least be familiar with the name of the person who is responsible for campus counseling programs.  And, make certain you understand the college's "parental notification" policy.

Call, email, text, or chat online with your teen frequently during the first weeks of college. Inquire about their roommates, the roommates' behavior, and how disagreements are settled or disruptive behavior dealt with. Make sure that your teen understands the penalties for underage drinking, public drunkenness, using a fake ID, driving under the influence, assault, and other alcohol-related offenses. 

And, most important, let your teen know that you are always available for support and advice.

Getting Help

If you are aware of academic difficulties or serious mood changes; or, your teen is never available or reluctant to talk with you, unwilling to talk about activities with friends, or is having trouble with campus authorities, he may be struggling with a drug or alcohol problem. Do not hesitate to help her find appropriate treatment on or near campus.

Continue to stay actively involved in the life of your son or daughter. Even though they may be away at college, they continue to be an extension of your family and its values.

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