Talking With Your College-Bound Young Adult about Alcohol

Students preparing to attend college have already taken several steps toward independence.

Deciding where to go to college, what career path to pursue, and how to finance an advanced education are all choices in learning how to be an adult. But they are not there yet. Young adults still need and value their parents’ guidance as they make decisions about their future. One of these decisions will be about alcohol use at college—and parents represent the best source of advice on the issue.

Talk with your young adult about avoiding underage drinking, even if you suspect alcohol use during high school.

Research suggests that teens who talked with their parents about alcohol avoidance strategies before they began their first year of college were more likely to avoid alcohol, limit its use, and spend less time with heavy-drinking peers.

College can overwhelm new students as they deal with changing social and academic expectations and the responsibilities that come with being on their own. It can be so challenging that about one-third of first-year students fail to enroll for their second year.

Some students may use alcohol as a way to cope with college pressures. They also might believe that alcohol use is common and socially expected among their new friends, and drink to fit in. Students, however, tend to significantly overestimate how often their fellow students use alcohol.

Due to these and other reasons, your young adult is entering an environment where alcohol use among 18- to 20-year-olds escalates dramatically. Overall, full-time first-year students tend to drink more than their peers who do not attend college—and suffer significantly more alcohol-related consequences.

Many colleges and universities are aware that communication between parents and students can support academic success. Contact the college your young adult will be attending for materials that offer tips on maintaining contact with students or talking about alcohol.

Learn about college alcohol policies at

Source: SAMHSA Publication # SMA15-4897