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The College Parent: Curbing Binge Drinking By College Students

Binge drinking is one of the most serious problems on college campuses today. Nearly 30,000 students each year go to the emergency department to be treated for alcohol overdose, and the American College of Emergency Physicians wants to help parents recognize the dangers of drinking and talk about them with their teens.

"Nothing is more tragic than when a student dies of alcohol poisoning," said Kathleen Clem, MD, of the American College of Emergency Physicians. "Alcohol is still the most widely used and abused drug among our nation's youth, and when kids drink, they are more likely to drink to get drunk, which increases their risks for certain health consequences."

Despite aggressive efforts of many colleges and universities to prevent drinking, many students still engage in high-risk drinking behavior. According to a 1997 Harvard University School of Public Health study, students who drink excessively are more likely to miss class, fall behind in school work, drive a car while intoxicated, be injured, engage in risky sexual activity, damage property, get in trouble with law enforcement, and use other drugs.

When discussing the dangers of drinking, parents should seek to establish open communication with their teen, rather than give a one-time speech. In addition, they should:

  • Allow teens to express their fears and concerns honestly.
  • Focus on facts and circumstances.
  • Make it clear that underage alcohol consumption and alcohol-impaired driving are against the law.
  • Become informed about the nature and extent of the alcohol problem on campus; confront any misperceptions and exaggerations about alcohol use.
  • Set a good example, avoiding contradictions between what you say and what you do; don't send mixed messages.
  • Encourage students who live on campus to live in "substance free-halls."
  • Encourage participation in non-alcohol activities.
  • Emphasize that you should never drink and drive or get in a car with someone who has consumed alcohol.
  • Help teens learn how to treat and recognize alcohol abuse, as well as deal with emergency drinking situations before they occur.

"College is a turning point in the relationship between parents and children," said Dr. Clem. "While you may not be able to actively monitor your child away from home, you can be informed and available to listen and talk, which could make all the difference."


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