Talk to your college kids about binge drinking, health experts warn

College students binge drink more than noncollege peers, recent

File: College binge drinking (cropped photo by Jonah Brown on Unsplash)

You’ve helped them pack and move into their dorm rooms, but have you talked to your college-aged kids about the dangers of binge drinking?

Health experts are highly encouraging parents to do so, and soon. The first six weeks of a student’s freshman year are a particularly vulnerable time.

A recently released survey from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 18- to 22 year-old college students have higher binge-drinking rates than their peers who do not attend college.

The consequences may be more significant, destructive and costly than many parents realize, according to the NIAAA.

The agency released the following statistics about the consequences of alcohol use among college students each year:

  • Deaths: 1,519 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
  • Assaults: 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • Sexual assaults: Although estimating the number of alcohol-related sexual assaults is exceptionally challenging — since sexual assault is typically underreported — researchers have confirmed a long-standing finding that 1 in 5 college women experience sexual assault during their time in college. A majority of sexual assaults in college involve alcohol or other substances. Research continues in order to better understand the relationships between alcohol and sexual assault among college students. Additional national survey data are needed to better estimate the number of alcohol-related assaults.
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD): Roughly 13% of college students meet the criteria for AUD.
  • Academic consequences: About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.

A mental health expert from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center explained why freshmen may be particularly vulnerable to heavy drinking binges.

“At that age developmentally, one of the most important factors of life is to be in the popular crowd and to be accepted, be it social media or in person,” said Christopher Townsend, Ph.D., Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center assistant professor of Clinical Counseling and Mental Health and director of the Your Life Behavioral Health and Wellness Clinic.

And the social environment at many colleges could also play a role.

“When we talk about triggers, we’re talking about people, places or things that send the brain the message that it’s time to use or drink,” Townsend said, using a food court analogy. “It’s like walking through the mall; you’re not hungry, but there’s those aromas, and all of a sudden you say, ‘I’m hungry.’”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a two-hour timeframe.

And it can happen easily at college parties when young adults may not even realize how much they’re drinking.

“Particularly in a social setting where there’s a party, they’re chugging alcohol. They’re having these games that they’re playing,” Townsend said. “They get way more alcohol in their system than the body can metabolize in a period that it could normally do with a small amount of alcohol. So, it creates a potentially dangerous time for a young person who’s overindulged in alcohol.”

The NIAA said parents can help by doing the following:

  • Talking with students about the dangers of harmful and underage college drinking — such as the possible legal and school penalties for underage drinking and the risks of alcohol overdose, unintentional injuries, violence, unsafe sexual behavior, academic failure, and other adverse consequences
  • Reaching out periodically and keeping the lines of communication open while staying alert for possible alcohol-related problems
  • Reminding students to feel free to reach out to them to share information about their daily activities and ask for help if needed
  • Learning about the school’s alcohol prevention and emergency intervention efforts
  • Making sure students know the signs of alcohol overdose or an alcohol-related problem, and how to help

More resources are available on the NIAAA College Drinking Prevention website.

Watch the full interview with Christopher Townsend provided by Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center:

About the Author:

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 25 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.