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College Alcoholism: Signs and How Parents Can Help


With Spring break in full swing, many parents are concerned that their college-age child is engaged in risky behavior, including destructive drinking patterns, which may lead to alcoholism. Every parent has a right to worry. With increased consumption of alcohol comes an increase in violence, sexual aggression, delinquent behavior, and even death. Here are some of the most troubling statistics on college alcoholism:

  • Every year, almost 2,000 college students die from alcohol-related injuries and close to 1 million college students are injured due to drinking
  • Almost 1 million students report being assaulted by another student who has been drinking
  • About 500,000 students report engaging in unsafe sexual practices when under the influence of alcohol
  • Nearly 2 percent of college students tried to commit suicide in the past year while drinking
  • Almost 4 million students drive under the influence of alcohol every year
  • One out of four college students report academic consequences due to their drinking

Shocking as these numbers are, they may be higher due to the tendency for students to misrepresent and underreport the amount of drinking and alcohol-related problems they experience. All of these issues may have long-lasting effects well beyond the four or five years spent in college. The health, legal, professional, and personal effects can be life-altering. The time to start paying attention to your college student is now.

What Can a Parent Do to Prevent College Alcoholism?

As a parent, you have the most access to your child and you can be the number one influence in your child’s life. If your child is in high school, you can take steps to reduce the risk of alcoholism and problems caused by alcohol before they enter college.

Take note of the alcohol policies at the colleges your child is interested in attending. Be sure to do the following:

  • Ask college administrators specific questions about how underage drinking is monitored on campus and how underage drinking prevention is enforced.
  • Discuss the social groups on campus and pay attention to the mention of Greek organizations, such as fraternities and sororities. Drinking rates are highest in fraternities and sororities and second highest in on-campus housing. Some colleges have alcohol-free dorms. Talk to your child about using this alternative.
  • Inquire about whether each dorm has resident advisors (RAs) for each floor and how involved these RAs are in the lives of the students.
  • Investigate the average number of years it takes to graduate.
  • If your child is in college, there are many things you can do to stay involved without being overbearing to reduce the risk of them falling into destructive drinking patterns.
  • Stay involved! Unfortunately, many parents who send their kids to college don’t want to be a “bother.” It is critical that parents stay involved in their child’s life. Most harmful drinking patterns develop within the first two months of one’s college career so do not shy away from calling and checking in with your child often. About 30 percent of students fail to enroll in their second year. This number is large enough so it should be taken seriously.
  • Discuss the activities your child is involved in at college and how they are spending their free time. Again, heavy drinking tends to begin during the first 4-8 weeks so this is a very important time for you and your college student.
  • You can talk to the administrators about their “parental reporting” policy. Some colleges don’t report a student’s problems to the parents so you want to ensure you know whether your child is falling behind or getting into trouble.
  • Talk to your son or daughter … and then talk some more. Be open and nonjudgmental. You want to create a safe space for them to discuss what they are seeing and doing.
  • If your child is exhibiting problematic drinking or you think there is a problem with alcohol, there are signs to look for and actions to take.
  • Pay attention to the following warning signs: lower grades, mood changes, reluctance to talk with you about their activities, etc.
  • Never blame your child for having a problem with alcohol. Instead, collaborate with them and the university to find appropriate treatment.
  • Ask to speak with a college counselor or write the Dean of Student Affairs to express your concern.
  • Show up unexpectedly. Your child may hate this, but it’s necessary and may just save their life. Try to meet their friends and attend all student/parent events.
  • Continue to be active in their lives and show them the love and care you have for them. It makes a difference.

Many college administrators identify alcohol abuse as the greatest problem facing colleges across the country. With persistence and positive action, parents can help reduce the epidemic of college alcoholism.


Dr. Cullen Hardy practices in South Bend, Indiana and has extensive experience treating those suffering from addiction problems. He is also an author and sober coach who works with clients all across the United States. You can contact him via or

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