Although it might not always feel like they listen or care for your perspective, talking to your college student about things like substance use is important. Substance use is considered a major health concern on college campuses and it has been found that parental influence results in less substance use by college students (Jurick, Moulding, & Naujokaitis, 2013). Students who reported communicating with their parent(s) or guardians for more than 30 minutes per week reported consuming 20% fewer drinks (Small et al., 2011).

Students value the time spent talking to their parents or guardians while they are away at college and report the interactions to be helpful during times that are stressful (Small, Morgan, Abar, & Maggs, 2011). Parental influence is significant in health behavior-related decision making and 84% of students take their parents’ rules and expectations about alcohol and other drug use seriously (ACHA, 2015). Students who report having a greater bond with their parents report lower alcohol use (Jurick, Moulding & Naujokaitis, 2013, and Small et al., 2011).

Even after graduation and moving to college, the amount of time you spend communicating with your student while apart counts. It is clear that even into adulthood, and even from across the city, state, or country, parental influence makes a difference. Starting and continuing this important conversation will positively impact your adult child during their time in school and for the rest of their life.

How to talk to your student about alcohol and drug use expanding section
  1. Set clear and realistic expectations regarding academic performance. Students respect their parents' or guardians' thoughts and value their expectations. Students are more likely to focus on their studies if they know their parents have expectations of them. The University’s expectations can be found in the Student Handbook.
  2. Communicate to students that alcohol and drugs are dangerous and sometimes lethal. Regular consumption can have negative effects on their brain development and excessive consumption can cause death. This is a fact, not a scare tactic. You’re here to learn: take care of your brain.
  3. Tell students to intervene when friends are in trouble with alcohol. Encourage your student to intervene if they witness excessive drinking or any drug use by friends. Express how tragic it is to lose class members from substance-related events or behaviors.
  4. Tell students to stand up for their right to a safe academic environment. Discuss things like interrupted study time and how sexual and physical assault can still occur to those who are not using drugs or alcohol. It is important to let your student know how they can discuss these issues with resident hall assistants and others on campus.
  5. Know the alcohol scene on campus and talk to your student about it. Perceived drinking and drug use rates are almost always higher than the actual use by college students. Since students are easily influenced by their peers, it is important for your student to know this.
  6. Avoid romanticized tales of drinking exploits from your own college years. Open, honest conversations are important, but embellishing your own stories from your glory days can normalize risky drinking behavior, depending on the story, of course. Be honest. Be open. Be real.
  7. Encourage your student to get engaged. Join a club, team, or organization on campus. Volunteer in community work. This will help your student gain additional job-related skills, gain memorable experiences, network, and fill your student's time with productive activities and decrease the likelihood of risky behaviors.
  8. Be clear about your expectations. Underage alcohol consumption, any illegal drug use, and alcohol-impaired driving are against the law and against university policy. Be a positive role model. Show/discuss your expectations to your student about substance use.
Tips to get the conversation started expanding section

Talking about substance use with your student can help them develop healthy habits and keep them safe. In the section "How to talk to your student about alcohol and drug use," we discuss common topics you would likely discuss with your student. Here, we provide suggestions that can be used to set up a constructive, open conversation with your student about substance use.

  • Schedule calls with your college student and stick to the schedule as a family. 
  • Take advantage of everyday “teachable moments.” Talk about events in your life that you have learned from to encourage your student to be open and honest with you.
  • Use news stories as conversation starters. This can be an easy way to talk about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs.
  • Listen. Your student may answer questions in a way you do not expect, or you may be disappointed or concerned by their answers. Listen openly, do not jump to conclusions, and ask additional questions if you need clarification. 
  • Keep an open mind. Open conversations are characterized by respect, appropriate body language, keeping an open mind, and intentional listening. Remember these principles and don't make assumptions.
  • Be prepared for your student to ask you about your drinking habits and experiences. Be prepared to answer these questions honestly and share what you have learned without detailing your specific experiences. 
  • Don’t force the conversation. If your student doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t press the issue. Communicate that you care and you’re here to help. This restraint shows that you respect your adult child’s privacy and desire for independence.
  • Use open questions, and reflect back answers to show you are truly hearing your student. Your student will be more comfortable sharing with you if they feel heard and understood. Here are some examples of open questions:
    • Tell me about how you felt when your roommate asked you to drink alcohol with her/him?
    • What is your personal philosophy with regards to drugs and alcohol while you’re at school?
    • Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision with regards to doing drugs or alcohol.How did you navigate that conversation with your roommate? How did you navigate that situation?
    • What can we do to support you?
    • How can we talk about this in a way that feels more comfortable?
    • What are your thoughts about your fellow students using alcohol? Marijuana? Prescription drugs? Illicit drugs?
    • How would your life be different in college if you didn’t use substances?
Alcohol use patterns among college students at UWL expanding section

Alcohol is widely regarded as the most misused and misunderstood drug in our society (Turrisi, 2010). It is the most common “date rape drug,” and a significant impactor in the success of college students across the U.S. Much of the insight about college drug and alcohol use at UWL comes from the American College Health Association’s (ACHA) National College Health Assessment II (NCHA II) survey which we do every three years. With this information, coupled with the knowledge we get from student accounts, personal conversations, arrest and incident reports, and active college students wanting to make a change, we achieve a comprehensive understanding of our problem, which informs the actions we take to address it. These statistics inform our approach to alcohol and other drug prevention, education and intervention at UWL. All data is drawn from the NCHA II Survey published in March of 2015.

  • Within the last twelve months, 6.3% of students at UW-L reported alcohol use as a factor negatively affecting their academic performance
  • Within the last twelve months, 1.2% of students at UW-L reported drug use as a factor negatively affecting their academic performance
  • Actual usage: 76.3% of students report any alcohol use during the last 30 days (Perceived usage: 96.9%- people think everyone is drinking)
  • Actual usage: 15.8% of students report any marijuana use during the last 30 days (Perceived usage: 85.4%)
  • Actual usage: 12.7% of students report any other drug* use during the last 30 days (Perceived usage: 75.3%)
  • 1.4 % of UW-L students reported driving after having 5 or more drinks in the last 30 days
  • 20.1 % of UW-L students reported driving after having any alcohol in the last 30 days
  • During the last time they socialized or “partied,” 68.1% students reported an estimated blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of less than 0.10%, just above the legal limit to drive

*Other drugs include cigars, smokeless tobacco as well as illicit and illegally used prescription drugs

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08g/dL, the legal limit to drink, typically occurring after 4 drinks for biological females and 5 drinks for biological males in about two hours. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as 5 or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least one day during the past thirty days. SAMHSA defines heavy drinking as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion on each of five or more days during the past thirty days.

Reported number of drinks consumed the last time students "partied" or socialized.
Number of Drinks Total (%)
4 or fewer 49.8
5 15.0
6 10.1
7 25.1

 

Reported number of times college students consumed five or more drinks in a sitting within the last two weeks.
Number of times college students consumed five or more drinks in a sitting Total (%)
N/A I don’t drink 15.3
None 39.1
1-2 times 30.5
3-5 times 12.9
6 or more times 2.2 
Risky drinking at college expanding section

Each student at UWL is an adult, operating as an autonomous unit fully in charge of their own future. We empower our students to make the best decisions for themselves. Sometimes college students decide to drink alcohol, use drugs, or engage in other risky behaviors, and we know illegal alcohol and drug use are problems on college campuses all across the U.S. Each year, over 1,800 college students die as a result of alcohol or drug-related unintentional injuries (National Institutes of Health, 2015). Risky drinking by college students can lead to arrest, conduct violations on campus, lowered academic performance, sexual assault, legal action, alcoholism or addiction, injury, property damage, unplanned and unsafe sexual activity, and even death. Risky drug or alcohol use and binge drinking represent a great danger to our students' success as well as their personal health. As such, we focus on harm and risk reduction by empowering our students to make value-based decisions with regards to alcohol.

Here are some of the basic messages we communicate for harm and risk reduction with regards to alcohol and drug use:

  • Use the buddy system, never drink alone, and stay with groups of people that you trust.
  • Never mix drugs and alcohol (even prescriptions from your doctor).
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals and drink water.
  • Know what one standard drink is and how many you’ve had. Know your limit and pace your drinks to one drink or fewer per hour.
  • Plan your night: Where are you going? Who are you going with? How many drinks are you going to have? How are you getting home? If there is a car involved, designate a driver. Never drive or ride with someone under the influence of a substance.
  • Understand the Responsible Action Policy: if someone you are with has had too much, or may be in harm's way from the actions of others or themselves, call 911 or the UW Police. Stay with that person, be honest and respectful to the emergency responder and you will not get an underage drinking ticket.
  • Understand the consequences. Underage drinking and any illicit drug use are illegal. If detected, these behaviors are punishable by law, and will also draw consequences as violations of the Student Code of Conduct by the university. Your behaviors, your choices, your future.
Warning signs expanding section

Substance use can lead to a variety of serious problems for college students. Knowing and looking for the warning signs of serious problems and intervening when appropriate can prevent some of the devastating consequences of substance misuse. Look for the following red flags with your loved ones, and reach out for help intervening if necessary:

  • Drop in grades or lowered academic achievement
  • Switching friends or social circles
  • Defiance of rules and regulations
  • Mood changes
  • Academic and/or non-academic conduct violations
  • Lack of motivation
  • Reduced self-esteem or self-confidence
  • Quitting or getting fired from a job
  • Reduced self-discipline
  • Never available or reluctant to talk with you
  • Unwilling to talk about activities with friends
  • Recurring underage drinking violations
  • Incidents resulting from high BAC
  • Using multiple pharmacies for prescription refills

Go with your gut. Warning signs of a potential problem should not be dismissed. If you are concerned that your student has a substance-related issue, do not avoid the issue. Discuss your concern calmly. Let your student know you care and want to help. Do not make excuses for your student, but instead empower them to take responsibility for their actions and access the help and support they need. Please contact Student Life, Counseling and Testing, the Student Health Center, or Wellness and Health Advocacy for more information.

Special considerations: Facets of peer pressure and perceived social norms expanding section

Peer pressure influences the way your college student makes their decisions. It can be direct or indirect, active or passive. It can also be influenced by perceived social norms. Peer pressure is strong as college students transition into their full-time academic careers, but it isn’t the only thing guiding your adult child’s decision making. You have instilled values, beliefs and attitudes in your college student: have faith in the foundation you have laid.

  • “Active social influence” occurs when a friend explicitly suggests or invites your college student to engage in a certain behavior like binge drinking, using drugs, drinking to pass out or black out, or be sexually active. These are verbal and nonverbal cues to engage, usually direct communication between people or groups of people.
  • "Passive social influence” occurs when your college student thinks everyone else is doing a behavior and it is a socially or culturally acceptable or even required thing to do.

Perceived social norms in college refers to the social phenomenon of interpreting a cultural habit or behavior as universal, even though it isn’t. Though students regularly feel that all of their peers are drinking alcohol, using drugs, and having sex, this isn’t the case, nor has it ever been at UWL or in any college across the country. Many college students choose not to engage in one or any of these things, for many different reasons. Encourage your student to “go with their gut” and make decisions based on their own personal and family values, regardless of what they think everyone else is doing.

What does UWL do to educate students about substance abuse and misuse? expanding section

From the first day of START when students come to our campus with their parents to register for classes, through New Student Orientation and all four years of college, UWL provides a consistent message about substance use and conduct expectations for our students and employees. UWL provides many ongoing opportunities for students to become educated about the effects of substance use and misuse, get support for making healthy personal decisions, and help accessing resources they need. Referrals are made to organizations both on and off campus for our students who are struggling with issues related to substance use from legal advocacy, to counseling services, to primary health care and treatment. Setting the standard for many college campuses in the U.S., we use Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) during every alcohol or drug related conduct conversation. We also provide theory-driven and evidence-based education for students in the forms of sanctions, personal wellness programs, continuing education, community building, and personal and community safety. For more information, contact Wellness & Health Advocacy: wellness@uwlax.edu or 608-785-8977.

Campus and Community Involvement

Conclusion expanding section

At UWL, we appreciate the important collaboration we share with the families of our students when it comes to personal decision making. We are in this together. As your student continues to navigate their world and their college experience, we will do our best to support healthy lifestyles by providing health advocacy, health education, and promoting policies that contribute to a culture of wellness at UWL. We will support their autonomy, and we will also ask them to remember the guidelines set forth by the UWL Student Code of Conduct. We also recognize that you are the number one resource for your student, and as such are a member of the UWL community as well.

If you would like to explore more options with regards to talking with your college student about alcohol and drugs, or if you have any questions, please contact the Wellness Coordinator at wellness@uwlax.edu, 608-785-8977 or check out the rest of our website: www.uwlax.edu/wellness.

Be Well UWL!