Come November, parents across the country will be anticipating the return of the college freshmen they dropped off at the dorms just a few short months ago. For many, Thanksgiving or winter break will be the first real chance they’ll get to see how their children are faring away from home. How much partying kids are doing as opposed to studying will surely top their list of concerns. It’s important for parents to understand the facts about college-age drinking and know what to do if it becomes a problem.
According to a 2002 study based on self-reports about drinking, 31 percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6 percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence in the past 12 months*. While most of them stop after they graduate, the near-and long-term consequences can be devastating.
Counselor John Wanner of Father Martin’s Ashley, an addiction treatment facility based in Havre de Grace, MD offers the following tips for parents:
Stop the problem before it starts
- Stay involved in your child’s life: Meet their friends and ask what they’re doing
- Be honest if they ask about your drug and alcohol experimentation: Resist the temptation to soften your stance because you feel guilty about your past behavior. Follow your candid response with lessons you learned
- Set boundaries: Tell them where you stand and what you expect from their behavior
- Look for signs: Indicators include isolation and secrecy, missing curfews and family functions, new circles of friends and acquisition of gadgets (kids don’t sell drugs for money; they do it to support their own habit)
- Confront them if you’re suspicious: Be the parent and let the counselor be empathetic
- Set a behavioral contract: Make the consequences tangible. For example, drinking and driving results in losing the car or the elimination of an allowance
Manage the road to recovery
- Give them ownership: Don’t force them into treatment. If “their way” doesn’t work, then put your foot down
- Consider your history: Alcoholism is hereditary. If there’s a history, be aggressive about pushing treatment
- Let them suffer consequences: If they get in trouble, let them find and pay for an attorney, for example
- Institute a zero tolerance policy: If you’ve caught them once, conduct random drug tests (be aware: there are supplements sold at stores like GNC kids will take to pass a drug test)
*Knight JR, Wechsler H, Kuo M, Seibring M, Weitzman ER, Schuckit M. Alcohol abuse and dependence among U.S. college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2002.