Navigating the College Years
Alcohol Use among Students: How Parents Can be Partners in Prevention
By Susan E. Bruce
Director, U.Va. Center for Alcohol and Substance Education
On college campuses across the country, hazardous drinking and the negative consequences associated with it have become a national concern. The University of Virginia takes seriously the problem of irresponsible and dangerous drinking among students.
Although most U.Va. students consume alcohol in a lower-risk manner and do not experience serious alcohol-related problems, alcohol use is prevalent among, and accepted by, many students and contributes to a variety of negative outcomes. Ensuring the health and safety of students is a University-wide priority.
The University approaches alcohol education with multiple tactics, and we believe that our programs are having positive effects within the student community. The culture of student self-governance ensures that students are significantly engaged in program development, and we encourage students to stand up for their rights, especially when a peer's use of alcohol has an effect on the living and learning environment.
Students living in on-Grounds housing are encouraged to report worrisome or dangerous behavior to their Resident Assistants so that problems can be addressed in a timely and appropriate manner.
Professional staff members follow up on situations as necessary, both in terms of student judicial action as well as support for students in recovery from substance abuse. Students are educated on the signs of alcohol poisoning and are strongly urged to quickly seek medical attention when dangerous situations arise. Emergency Room staff do not notify police when a student is seen for an alcohol-related incident.
Here are a few suggestions on how parents can continue to support students in making healthy choices now that they are far from home:
- Initiate conversations about alcohol choices and make your expectations clear. Your son or daughter probably won't bring up the issue without some prompting. Parental expectations do have an impact on student drinking behaviors.
- Know that most parents do have these conversations. A national study found that three-quarters of parents say they discussed family rules about alcohol use with their sons and daughters in the previous three months.
- Avoid scare tactics. Be factual and straightforward about your family beliefs and your concern about the choices your son or daughter may be facing. Ninety percent of young adults say the way to reach them is to focus more on safety issues, not just the legal consequences.
- Know that U.Va. students drink far less than you might think. When we give students more accurate information about their peers' behaviors, we increase healthy behaviors. According to a recent U.Va. study, on a typical Saturday night, most students (59 percent) either don't drink or consume no more than three drinks. More than one-third (35percent) of first-years typically don't drink at all. Regrettably, many students believe that all students drink heavily, and they may make higher-risk alcohol decisions based on misperceptions of what is “normal” at U.Va. Students also underestimate the prevalence of protective behaviors such as calling 911 when they encounter an unresponsive student and, as a result, may falsely believe that their peers are reluctant to intervene in dangerous situations.
Some students do make poor choices around alcohol, and the University has a number of programs in place to assist these students. They include one-on-one meetings with staff in the Offi ce of the Dean of Students; online education programs offered by the Center for Alcohol and Substance Education; the Hoos in Recovery student support group; and free professional alcohol and drug abuse assessments through Counseling and Psychological Services.
For more information about substance abuse education programs and support for students in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, contact the University's Center for Alcohol and Substance Education at 434.924.5276 or see www.virginia.edu/case. The Virginia ABC offers an informative guide for parents, available at http://www.abc.virginia.gov/Education/parents/AGuideforParents.html.