Alcohol Awareness: A Practical Approach For College Students And Parents

Encouraging alcohol awareness and responsible attitudes towards drinking is crucial during a young person’s college years. At the College of Education and Human Development, we’ve studied attitudes towards alcohol and other risk behaviors in students as well as parents’ attitudes and perspectives on student risk behaviors, and have created programs to help both groups address their concerns about college drinking.

A Student-First Approach To Alcohol Awareness and Risk Management

During my undergraduate studies, I conducted a study with a family psychologist who examined attitudes and concerns regarding risk behaviors with both adolescents and parents. The results were interesting – and showed a disparity between the concerns of each group. While parents were generally focused on the things you would expect – alcohol, drug use, and sexual activity – the young people were actually concerned about peer relationships, forming their own identity, and issues like bullying. Not surprisingly, I also observed that the resources and programs intended to promote alcohol awareness and healthy behaviors were largely driven by the parents’ concerns, not those of the youth.

In our work at CEHD, we use a student-focused approach that eschews the traditionally negative view of risk. While many risk behaviors can be damaging, it’s also a necessary part of growing up and entering adult life. Risks like trying out for a sports team, joining a student organization or entering into a relationship are important parts of establishing an identity. By encouraging healthy communication between students and parents, we hope to create an environment in which students gain independence while avoiding unhealthy or damaging behaviors.

CEHD’s Alcohol Awareness Program For Parents

To help give parents the tools they need to communicate with their students about alcohol awareness, we’ve created the “Alcohol Use on Campus” seminar. It’s an online program that serves as a guide for not only encouraging a healthy relationship with drinking, but helping the student deal with all the challenges of college and the transition into adulthood.

Through the seminar, parents get a broader perspective on the changes taking part in their child’s life during college and how that can affect their relationship with alcohol. We give them techniques for talking about alcohol and other challenging topics, with an emphasis on how to guide and support students without ruling them with strict directives. We also offer them resources for dealing with crisis situations related to alcohol and other risk behaviors, in case a more serious event occurs in the future.

We’ve received great feedback from both parents and students, and have been very encouraged by the results. A few years ago, we conducted a small study of some incoming freshmen and their drinking behavior over the course of the school year. We compared the behavior of students whose parents had taken our online seminar versus a control group whose parents had not participated. Our study found that the students whose parents had not taken the seminar reported increases in the number of times they drank, the number of binge drinking episodes, and an increase in negative consequences related to drinking over the course of their freshman year. The students whose parents had taken the seminar reported no such increases.

Tips For Talking To Your College Student About Alcohol

Don’t wait for a crisis. Parents often wait to talk with students about alcohol after a negative incident or a problem has developed. Being proactive is important; it’s crucial to talk with your child about alcohol before they leave for college and help them to form healthy habits and attitudes.

Talk about consequences, but also alternatives. It’s important that students understand the potential legal, health, safety, and financial consequences of alcohol abuse. However, it’s equally important to encourage and model positive, alternative leisure activities that don’t involve alcohol.

Stress safety. Environments where alcohol is served, like bars and parties, present other dangers. Give your student advice on basic safety habits, like not leaving drinks unattended or not walking home alone.

Let them know it’s always okay to call. While parents must set rules and consequences, it is vital that students aren’t discouraged from seeking help – particularly in the case of an alcohol related medical emergency. Too often, students who are afraid of getting in trouble don’t call for needed medical attention, resulting in tragic consequences.

Be an example. Some parents allow their children to drink in the home – or even provide alcohol – with the rationale that it’s safer to let them drink in a supervised environment. Research refutes this claim. Young people whose parents approve of or encourage drinking are more likely to drink compared to those whose parents discourage drinking.

Jodi Dworkin, Ph.D.

About the Author

Jodi Dworkin, Ph.D.

  • Associate Professor, Extension Specialist, Director of Graduate Studies
  • College of Education and Human Development

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