As the new school year starts, college students have gathered everything they need to get started: a computer, pens, notebooks, and for some, drugs and alcohol.
For many first-time college students, going away to school is their first time away from home for a significant length of time. Students want and need to fit in, prove themselves, and experience their newfound freedom. But these freedoms can often be taken too far due to a higher rate of partying and experimentation with illegal drugs and alcohol both on and off campus.
Drug and Alcohol Use Among College Students
Alcohol is still the primary substance abused by college students. Since the mindset of drinking alcohol goes hand-in-hand with the college experience, it is almost always present at house parties, student gatherings and sporting events. In fact, full-time college students were more likely than their peers who were not enrolled full-time to report binge or heavy drinking, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Joining alcohol on the college party scene are drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and even heroin – with marijuana use spiking thanks to legalization in several states. The number of students who use marijuana after entering college continues to increase.
The increase in the amount of substance abuse among college students brings serious consequences. A National Institute of Health report estimated that:
- 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.
- 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
- 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
- About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.
What can parents do to stop substance abuse before it starts?
Many psychologists and psychiatrists agree: it is easier to encourage a college student to avoid drugs or alcohol before they leave for college than it is once classes have started. Because of this, parents are key in helping their teens abstain from drugs and alcohol.
A happy, mentally stable, and socially active person who understands the dangers of drugs and alcohol addiction will be less likely to experiment with substances. And so, a lot of the conditioning needs to start in the home before the student is left on his or her own.
Talk about drugs and alcohol — When the child understands the real consequences about drug or alcohol use, they will be more likely to steer away from them. Harsh, threatening discussions will only help push the child to use drugs or alcohol out of rebellion. A young person is at a lower risk of drug and alcohol use during college if the parents are invested in conveying the seriousness of substance abuse, even if they start during the child’s late adolescence.
Get to know their friends — One of the biggest indicators of drug use is a child’s peer group. It is safe to say that if a teen is regularly hanging out with friends who use drugs or alcohol, it’s likely they will do the same to fit in.
Support their interests — Kids who are enthusiastic about participating in clubs, sports, and other healthy social activities are less likely to use drugs recreationally.
Research the resources — Most schools have resources available on campus to help students cope with the stresses of their new environment as well as drugs and alcohol. Make sure that both you and your teen are aware of them.
Watch out for red flags — Not only should you watch out for signs that your teen is drinking, but also pay attention to their mental well-being. Adolescents that have depression or anxiety are very likely to start using drugs when away at school to help them “stay calm” or focused. It is better to confront these conditions before a student is thrust into the stressful environment of college.