As summer comes to an end, young adults nationwide begin to switch gears and get ready to pack up their cars and head back to college. But for many college students, whether they are at the beginning of their college career or are returning to finish up their final semester, their first weekend back on campus could involve heavy drinking. Binge drinking is a very real, and potentially fatal, danger that many students don’t take seriously. Universities often educate college students, especially incoming freshmen, of the dangers of binge drinking during orientation, but this doesn’t always stop them from doing it.
“College freshmen are at the biggest risk for binge drinking,” says Sandra Hoover, Ph.D., M.P.H., deputy director of A Matter of Degree: Reducing High-Risk Drinking Among College Students, a project administered by the American Medical Association (AMA) in Chicago. “They’re away from home for the first time, and they have lots of freedom. They decide that means freedom to get drunk.”
By the time they get to their senior year, most students who binge drink have moderated their drinking. But by then, many have already been hurt by bouts of heavy drinking.
Besides the risk of alcohol poisoning and even death, there are numerous risks involved with binge drinking. Here are just a few:
- Accidents. Alcohol impairs sensory perceptions, judgment and reaction time. Of young people who drink, 20 percent say they sometimes drive drunk.
- Date rape. Alcohol is a factor in up to two-thirds of sexual assaults on students.
- Unprotected sex. Heavy drinkers are at greater risk for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. They also have a greater chance of pregnancy.
- Alcoholism. College students who abuse alcohol could become alcoholics. Chronic alcohol use can damage the liver and heart and increase the risk of some cancers.
- Bad grades. Students who drink the most have the worst grades, according to a study at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
So what can you do?
If you are the parent of a college student, educate your college-age son or daughter about the risks of binge drinking and other substance abuse. Letting your kids know about the real-life dangers involved with binge drinking goes a lot further than just telling them “Don’t drink too much at college.” Here are some other things you can do:
- Make your attitudes clear. Discuss your expectations for their college lifestyle and academic performance.
- Show interest. Ask about grades, classes, friendships and other healthy aspects of campus life. Let them know these things are important.
- Don’t give up. What parents say and do really can make a difference. The earlier you start your prevention efforts, the better.
Want more help talking with your kids about alcohol or substance abuse? If you’re a Health Advocate member, you can call your EAP+Work/Life specialist who can provide counseling or help you locate more resources to help you and your family.