Alcohol and Other Drugs

National studies have shown that teens who talked with a family member about alcohol prior to starting college were less likely to engage in risky drinking behaviors. It is important to be realistic about what your student may experience while in college and maintain an ongoing dialogue with them about how they can stay safe.

In addition to reviewing supportive services and ways for students to safely connect with their peers, the information below can help you have meaningful and productive conversations with your student regarding the use of alcohol and other drugs.

Conversation Tips

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  • Choose a good time and place

    It is best if the conversation is not rushed and if there are not a lot of distractions. Think about using a natural segue to begin the conversation, such as a scene in a TV show or movie that includes drinking. Ideally, approach the topic before your student leaves for college so that they feel well equipped to make the healthiest decisions.

  • Decide what to share

    Consider your own experiences with alcohol or other drugs as well as any family history of substance misuse as it may play a role in how your student approaches their own behaviors. Avoid glorifying your experiences in college.

  • Set clear expectations

    Discuss the effects, risks, and legal consequences of underage drinking as well as the impact that your student’s drinking and drug use habits may have on their academic performance. Be clear on what you expect.

  • Encourage bystander intervention

    If your student notices a peer exhibiting signs of alcohol poisoning, drug overdose, or another adverse effect of substance use, it’s important for them to feel confident stepping in. Talk to them about the University’s medical amnesty policy, under which they will not get in trouble for calling 911 if they are also intoxicated.

  • Listen instead of lecture

    Show your student that you are interested in what they have to say. Be aware of your body language. Ask open-ended questions such as:

    • If drinking or doing drugs, what do you hope to get out of the experience?
    • What do you think you’d say or do if someone was pressuring you to drink and you didn’t want to?

  • Express respect and care

    Let your student know that you trust them to make smart decisions. If they don’t feel a sense of trust from you, they may shut down.

  • Avoid conversation “stoppers"

    "Stoppers" are statements that may shut your student down or make them feel judged. An example of a conversation stopper is something like, “If you drive drunk, you’re crazy.”

  • Be comfortable stepping away

    You may receive pushback, short responses, or annoyance from your student. Instead of trying to continue to push information on them, take a break and let them know that you will come back to this conversation another time.

  • Stay connected

    Especially during the first six weeks of college when students are most vulnerable to peer pressure and binge drinking, check in regularly about their academic performance and their social life.

Be Informed

The information below will be helpful to have on hand when approaching a conversation with your student.

Blood Alcohol Concentration and Binge Drinking

The only factor that lowers your BAC is time. The liver takes time to break down all of the alcohol in someone’s system, and no activity can speed up this process.

Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for biological males and four or more drinks for biological females within two hours. Drinking games often lead to binge drinking, which can then lead to alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol Poisoning

Someone with alcohol poisoning may be unconscious and unable to be woken up, have pale or blueish skin, have slow or irregular breathing, be unable to walk, and/or be vomiting. If someone is exhibiting any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Driving Under the Influence

When discussing potential risks of drinking or smoking with your student, make sure to include the dangers of drunk driving and high driving. This includes riding with a friend who has been drinking or smoking. Develop an explicit agreement with your student that they will not get into a vehicle with someone who is intoxicated. Any amount of alcohol or cannabis in someone’s system can alter their perception and decision-making abilities.

Alcohol and Consent

Someone cannot legally consent to sexual activity if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and could make a decision they will later regret. It’s always best to wait until both people are no longer intoxicated to engage in sexual activity.

Due to the legality of medicinal and/or recreational cannabis in many states, it’s common for students to believe that cannabis is not harmful – even that it’s good for you. But cannabis does have harmful effects on the body and the brain.

  • Cannabis smoke can irritate your lungs, similar to tobacco smoke, which can lead to lung issues.
  • THC, the intoxicating chemical in cannabis, can impair judgment and slow reaction time, which might result in unsafe decisions.
  • If you ingest cannabis in an edible, it may be difficult to know exactly how much you're ingesting, and effects take longer to set in. When they do, they may be intense and can cause paranoia and/or nausea.

Despite popular belief, cannabis can be addictive. If you believe your student may be developing a reliance on cannabis, encourage them to reach out to the Sandler Center for support.

Resisting Peer Pressure

Your student may experience pressure to engage in drinking or drugs from their peers. They may hear statements like, “Come on, everyone does it.” Remind your student that this is not true, and talk to your student about being firm and confident in their responses.

You may want to practice with them by asking, “If someone said __ to you, how would you respond?”

Below are some useful responses for your student to have in their back pocket for whenever they experience pressure to drink or do drugs:

  • “I’m good, thanks!”
  • “It’s just not my thing.”
  • “I can’t tonight.”
  • “No thanks, I already feel great.”
  • “Thanks, but I have [activity/schoolwork/event] tomorrow, and I need to be clearheaded for it.”

Harm Reduction

We understand that students may drink and/or use drugs while at college. Instead of preaching abstinence, we provide students with the following harm reduction tools so they can make safe decisions if they decide to drink:

  • Avoid binge drinking as defined above.
  • Hydrate and alternate alcoholic drinks with water.
  • Eat meals before drinking.
  • Pour your own drinks and/or watch while someone pours your drink.
  • Never set your drink down and leave it, risking your drink being tampered with.
  • Keep track of how much you drink.
  • Have a designated driver or safely use rideshare services/taxis.