College is a stepping stone toward adulthood for your child. While this may be true, college campuses are oftentimes not the most mature environments. Your child will be thrown into a new and unfamiliar situation with thousands of other unsupervised teens. They will face opportunities, challenges, and the temptation to use alcohol and drugs.
If your children are young, start teaching your kids about the dangers of alcohol and drug use as soon as they understand the difference between good and bad. The most important qualities to teach your child throughout their formative years are love, discipline and respect. So by the time they reach college and experience a new kind of independence, they will be focused on being productive and getting good grades.
When your children are in high school, conversations about alcohol and drug use should be routine and frequent. During these talks, make sure you’re asking questions about what they are seeing around them and you’re listening as much as you talk. Continuously reinforcing your expectations about drugs and alcohol is important: 70 percent of college students say that their parents’ concerns or expectations influence whether or how much they drink, smoke, or use drugs. Students who are drug and alcohol free in high school are less likely to drink and use drugs in college.
The college experience today is very different from the days when you were a student. Students can set their schedules so that they have no Friday or even Thursday classes, and fewer morning classes. Many college campuses are encircled by bars that sell beer and alcohol at low prices to attract students. Technology gives students greater access to parties that have drugs and alcohol, and students have more time to devote towards partying. Temptation is nearly constant, and because the brain is still developing throughout the midtwenties, the controls needed to resist it, and the ability to appreciate consequences of actions, are not yet fully in place.
Alex (a student at Miami University) remembers the impressive assortment of drugs he once used. “I used pretty much everything,” he said. “Adderall, Ambien, Xanax, Klonopin, Percocet, morphine, Suboxone, ketamine… Now I only use Xanax once in a while.” He used each drug, he said, for a different purpose. “Adderall helps me study,” he said “The benzos chilled me out and helped my anxiety, and the opiates made me feel great and forget about my problems.” (Source: Victoria Slater “Prescription Drug Epidemic on the Rise,” Miami student newspaper, Miami University of Ohio, December 3, 2013.)
The reasons college students use drugs, whether it be to party, relax, study, or avoid something stressful, are no different from the reasons high school students report using the same drugs. The big difference for college students is their environment. College freshman don’t need to go home and face their parents and family members after smoking, drinking, or using other drugs. To college kids, the nights are longer, the parties are harder, and the access to drugs and alcohol is much easier.
As a parent you have the power to influence your kids throughout their college years, especially if you begin talking about drugs and alcohol with them at an early age. Keep the lines of communication open when they’re in middle school, high school and college. This will help you develop a positive, open, and nurturing relationship with your child. Let your child know that you explicitly disapprove of substance use, and monitor their behavior as they continue to mature and grow. Resisting peer pressure and avoiding risky situations are acquired skills, and the best time to teach them is when your child is at home with you.