Parents and their children wait expectantly for word of their acceptance into the college of choice. It feels like the dawn of a new era: parents are thrilled to see their child so interested in continuing academic achievement and students look forward to independence and new friends. How many of these parents are aware of the risks that face their young adults as they move into dorms and discover that they can make decisions, both good and bad, about alcohol and drug use?
According to a study by CASA at Columbia University in New York, the number of college students binge drinking and abusing drugs has only gotten worse over the past decade. Here are just a few of the troubling statistics:
Almost half of full-time college students binge drink, abuse prescription drugs, or abuse illegal drugs.
In 2005, almost one-quarter of those college students meet the medical definition of substance abuse or dependence – three times the rate in the general population.
The rate of excessive drinking jumped 16 percent from 1993 to 2005. Those college students who drink until drunk in the past month rose 26% over that decade. Even more alarming is this statistic: alcohol-related arrest per campus rose 21 percent from 2001 to 2005.
Alcohol is not the only problem. Prescription drug abuse rose an alarming 343% from 1993 to 2005 for painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, highly addictive opioids. They are also abused stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall, known as “study drugs,” and sedatives such as Nembutal and Seconal.
Daily marijuana use doubled. In 2005 4 percent of students reported they smoked marijuana daily. Illegal drug use (cocaine and heroin) almost doubled as well, with over 8 percent of students reporting they had used these drugs.
The consequences for this risky behavior goes beyond slipping grades and dropped classes. Student deaths from unintentional alcohol-related injuries rose 56 percent from 1998 to 2001. Over 1,700 students died in this way, and nonfatal injuries rose 38 percent in this same time period.
Often parents inadvertently encourage this behavior. Giving students large allowances while at school funds the alcohol and drug use. Schools contribute by allowing beer companies to sell their merchandise at sporting events. Fraternity parties are rarely supervised by school officials and tend to be popular places to get extremely drunk. Hazing deaths continue to occur during fraternity rushing.
Many parents and college administrators have given up on controlling drug and alcohol use on campus. They take a kids-will-be-kids attitude. However, many of these universities need to sit up and take notice: more often than not, aggrieved parents of injured or dead children are suing colleges where there is a seeming look-the-other-way attitude, particularly toward underage drinking.
If you are the parent of a child going away to college this Fall, set firm rules in advance. Granted, you will not be there to monitor them, but you can ask about class attendance, watch changes in grades and focus, and notice any changes in behavior when students are home during school breaks. You are likely footing a pretty large bill for your child’s education – you should make sure you investment isn’t funding weekend binges more than academic excellence.