Going to college is an exciting time for incoming students as well as their parents. However, this transition can bring many challenges for college freshmen, and it’s important to be prepared for the many new experiences that higher education brings. 

It’s a huge step in independence and most teens aren’t entirely ready to handle the change alone. College challenges students in many ways, asking them to balance relationships, education and recreation all at the same time. These challenges in early college years can lead students to engage in dangerous behaviors, such as drinking or using drugs. 

Parents can be a supportive guide to college students getting read, helping them make safe, well-informed decisions as they navigate their new lives. Here are some things to keep in mind as you’re both preparing for the new and exciting experience.

Underage Drinking

Even though the federal drinking age is 21, many students are still able to get alcohol despite being under the legal age. College drinking statistics show that underage drinking occurs frequently on campuses. A 2016 report shows that 57.2% of college students drank within the last month and 38% reported binge drinking. 

These underage drinking statistics show how prevalent alcohol is in college. Binge drinking and drinking in general carries many risks for underage people, such as alcohol poisoning and other life-long consequences. 

Infographic stating underage drinking statistics

Drunk Driving

Drinking can make people feel invulnerable. College students who don’t understand how alcohol affects them may engage in underage drinking and driving. Teen drunk driving makes up around 25% percent of teen car accidents. In addition, about 4,300 underage people die due to alcohol each year. According to the statistics on teen drinking and driving, 1 in 5 teen drivers involved in a fatal crash will have alcohol in their system. 

Alcohol Addiction

The younger someone is when they begin drinking, the more likely they are to suffer from alcohol addiction. Research shows that many students are binge drinking in college. Life-long dependence and addiction can begin with alcohol abuse in college. Few students are prepared for the consequences that underage drinking can initiate.

How You Can Help

There are a few ways you can help your child either avoid or safely manage the effects of drinking:

  • Pay for or contribute to a ridesharing account: Having a designated driver or using a rideshare service can prevent drunk driving and DUI charges. Be sure to mention that they should never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking, even if that person was originally identified as the designated driver. If the situation changes, their strategy for getting home safely should also shift. In college, rideshare opportunities are often available and  Uber or Lyft are popular and usually convenient rideshare options for college students.
  • Talk about the consequences of drinking: It’s important to talk to your child about the consequences of underage drinking, the consequences of binge drinking and the consequences of drinking and driving. Discussing the risks openly and honestly and talking about how to avoid them will help your child understand what can happen if they choose to drink. 

Drugs in College

In addition to alcohol, many college students use illegal and unprescribed drugs for various reasons. In 2014, one in five students reported using illicit drugs within the last month. Teen substance abuse can lead to dependence, addiction and many other side effects. Drug use in college typically falls within three categories.

Infographic with statistics on drug use in college

Marijuana

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug on college campuses. There are many effects of smoking marijuana, and college students who use it can experience mental impairment, anxiety and memory or learning problems. 

Party Drugs

These drugs can create intense feelings of euphoria and they’re typically used for party events. Teen party drugs include hallucinogens such as LSD, stimulants such as cocaine and depressants such as Xanax. College students can easily become addicted to these drugs, and many teen overdose deaths occur from using ecstasy and similar substances.

Prescription Drugs

In college, prescription drug abuse affects many students who may think these drugs help them academically. Drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall are perceived as study drugs or smart drugs for college, and they are misused for their “performance-enhancing” effects. On Ritalin, college students may believe they have increased concentration, alertness, memory and cognition. The same is true of other stimulants, such as Adderall. College students who use these drugs can face many negative side effects, including addiction.

How You Can Help

There are a few ways you can help your child avoid drug abuse in college:

  • Have an open discussion about drugs: Talk to your child about teen drug abuse in college as well as the effects of teen drug use. If they’ve used drugs before, it’s a good time to learn more about why they did it. By having an open conversation that’s free from judgment or anger, your child will be more likely to talk with and learn from you. 
  • Consider treatment: What should you do if your child is using drugs? If your child is misusing drugs or already facing problems with addiction, it may be a good idea to consider teen addiction treatment or teen drug rehab. There are many programs that provide effective rehab for teens

Sexual Assault

Unfortunately, sexual assaults on college campuses happen around the country each day. College sexual assault statistics show that 11.2% of all college students experience sexual assault. For undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience sexual assault. 

With these alarming rates in mind, it’s important to speak with your children about how they can protect themselves on campus. 

Infographic describing sexual assault in college statistics

How You Can Help

There are a few ways you can help educate your child on how to prevent sexual assault in college.

  • Talk about sexual assault prevention: Tell your child to be careful when eating or drinking in places where people may use date rape drugs. They should avoid walking alone at night by using a campus security escort or a rideshare service. Have a candid conversation about how alcohol increases risk, as at least half of all sexual assaults occur after alcohol is consumed. Consider also discussing bystander intervention with your child before sending them off to college. 
  • Research the college’s campus safety resources: Make your child aware of campus resources, such as security, emergency phones, and other safety-related services and how to access them. 
  • Research reporting procedures and campus responsibilities: In addition to reporting sexual assault to the police, college campuses have reporting procedures in place if the assault happened on campus or involved another student. The school will have responsibilities under Title IX to help the student feel safe as they continue their education and additional support resources like counseling or tutoring may also be available.  
  • Research college treatment or recovery resources: Find out if the campus or nearby facilities offer resources for helping sexual assault victims.

Time Management and Stress

Though moving to college is exciting, it can also be very overwhelming. In college, mental health is very important to maintain. Freshmen students are suddenly independent and in a whole new environment — one where they must manage their time. It can be stressful, and college stress can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and other disorders.

Infographic on college students and time management and stress

How You Can Help

There are a few ways you can help this transition be much less overwhelming:

  • Help your teen get organized: Being organized for college life can go a long way to set your new college student up for success. Help them create an organization system that allows them to plan, manage and maximize their time. Research and share college time management tips, like making a college checklist of what they’ll need when they leave or creating daily to-do lists. Being organized at college is important for removing stress and checklists will help them keep track of everything.
  • Remind your teen to stick to priorities: Too often, partying becomes a priority in those first few months of college. This can be a tough habit to break during freshman year of college and for some, is the beginning of an addiction. While you want them to have fun and explore new things, college student priorities include going to class, completing homework assignments and signing up for future courses. Make sure they meet with their college advisor to help set up a plan and attend regular meetings to stay on track. 

Relationships

Part of being a student is forming new college relationships. These new social situations can sometimes be tricky to navigate, but there are ways to form healthy relationships in college that last a lifetime. The most common types of relationships in college are new friends, roommates and classmates. 

Infographic stating the most common college relationships

Roommates

Living with college roommates is different from living with family members. In a college dorm, your child will be dealing with new people who have their own ideas of how a shared space should be handled. Roommate conflict is inevitable. Your child should be prepared for this by creating a strategy for how to handle conflict in a positive and productive way.

Friendships

Teens are thrust into a whole new environment when they go to college, encountering people from all different walks of life. While college friendships can be some of the most rewarding and long-term relationships we create, it’s important to be aware of warning signs. Peer pressure among college students can lead to dangerous behaviors such as drug use, so make sure your child is aware of when these situations are happening. Let them know it’s okay to say “no,” and teach them that peer influence can sometimes lead to trouble.

How You Can Help

  • Talk to your teen about common roommate issues: Talk to your child about conflict resolution skills for dealing with college roommate issues, such as staying calm during arguments, not blaming people, listening and waiting to speak. A great first step in learning how to deal with roommate conflict is to have your child create some sort of roommate agreement plan. Usually, the college resident assistant (RA) can help and will set rules for everyone to follow, such as how to handle chores and when quiet times should be observed. 
  • Remind your teen to choose friends wisely: Teen peer pressure can lead college students to engage in behavior they otherwise wouldn’t. Choosing your friends wisely is important, so help your child understand what to keep in mind when making friends in college. Make sure they don’t immediately trust people they meet. Ask them what kind of person they would like to be — those are the people they should align themselves with. 

Does My Teen Need Addiction Treatment?

The college environment brings with it many temptations for using drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, preparing your child doesn’t guarantee they’ll avoid these temptations. If you believe your teen is using drugs or dealing with addiction, reach out to addiction treatment resources immediately. 

The Recovery Village offers teen treatment programs for drugs, alcohol and co-occurring mental disorders. Contact us today to learn about how we can help your child back on track and lead a life free from drug and alcohol use.