The Risks of Drugs and Alcohol

Many high school graduates are busy preparing to enter their first year of college. As if being on the verge of adulthood wasn't enough, the incoming freshmen come face-to-face with the uncertainties of college life. They are full of anticipation, excited about entering into a new phase of life where they will be independent of their parents. Invariably, some students will turn to alcohol and other drugs to help cope with the transition.

This new freedom is often difficult for the eighteen year-old freshmen to handle. Add to that the serious risks freshmen face with the availability and misuse of alcohol and drugs, and it is easy to understand why, nationally, about one-third of students fail to enroll for their second year. The consequences of excessive drinking and drug use by college students are significant, costly, and, in some cases, life-threatening.

Knight Wechsler, Kuo, Seibring, Weitzman, and Schuckit (2002) studied over 14, 000 students representing 119 four year American colleges, and found that 31% met criteria for an alcohol abuse diagnosis and 6% for an alcohol dependence diagnosis within the past 12 months. Hence, a good number of college students meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV, 1994) criteria for significant alcohol problems. At this point, some of you may be surprised, while others are not —but all of you may be wondering, "Okay, so what can we do?"

Johnson & Wales University does plenty about its students' alcohol and other drug (AOD) use. As stated in the university's alcohol policy, possession or use of alcoholic beverages anywhere on university premises is prohibited except for lawful use at events, operations or programs sanctioned by university officials and except that:

  • Residents of Harborside Village, Washington Apartments and Centennial House who are age 21 years or older who have signed a “Special Agreement Regarding Residents of Harborside Village, Washington Apartments and Centennial House Ages 21 or Older” and participated in a required university alcohol workshop may possess and use alcoholic beverages in their own apartment/room in accordance with the Special Agreement and applicable laws.

The Special Agreement (as well as the "Guide to On-Campus Living") sets forth detailed requirements for such residents, including approved types of alcohol, the amount of alcohol permitted per resident, and rules on hosting guests.

Alcohol is not permitted to be possessed or used by any other residents of Harborside Village, Washington Apartments and Centennial House who do not meet such requirements. Alcohol is not permitted in the other residence halls regardless of a student being of legal drinking age. (See residence hall alcohol policy for more information.)

In spite of our strong AOD policy there are a number of students who will drink alcohol or use other drugs. Therefore, there are consequences for those who do. For example, students that are sanctioned by Student Conduct after being found in violation of the University's alcohol and drug policies are required to attend an AOD seminar developed and conducted by the Student Counseling Center. It is both educational and motivational in its approach. Students are given a great deal of information on the dangers of AOD use, are asked to reflect on their own level of use and how to make better choices. Routinely, the Student Counseling Center assesses, refers, and in some cases counsels students' with AOD issues. In addition, a host of preventive efforts are made by various departments within the university.

Communicating with your student is essential particularly during the freshman year. Over the next year, look for signs of trouble and confront them by expressing your concern. Students need their parents. Don't judge, and don't become emotionally confrontational. Ask about friends, classes, amount of sleep and eating habits —but do not interrogate your student. Balance what your children can do for themselves and what you can do to support them to make appropriate choices.

Parents, your job is to keep talking, communicating, relating. Your students are now independent and free to make choices. You no longer maintain control over your young adults' everyday lives, but you can continue to influence their choices by alerting them to the serious consequences of excessive drinking and drug use. They need to be held accountable for their choices.

American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: 1994.

Karen Levin Coburn & Madge Lawrence Treeger, Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Today's College Experience, 1992.

Knight, J. R. Wechsler, H., Kuo, M., Siebring, M., Weitzman, E. R., & Schuckit, M. A. (2002). Alcohol abuse and Dependence among U.S. College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 63(3), 263-270.

The Hidden Consequences of College Drinking 

[Adapted from "Drugs and Alcohol Pose Risks for First Year Students," by Joe Barresi and Nancy Hardendorf]