Students and Alcohol

Student wellness, student transition to college, sexual behavior, violence and sexual assault and depression and suicide

Dennis Martell is an expert on student health issues. He counsels students on some of the most important issues of college life: stress, sex and pregnancy prevention, alcohol and tobacco use, mental health and nutrition.

Podcast Interview

Talking with Your Student about Alcohol

Although the Michigan State University, in compliance with state law, prohibits the use and possession of alcoholic beverages by persons under age 21, the negative consequences of alcohol use are of great concern for many parents, University administrators, and staff.  According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use by students ages 18 through 24 may be responsible each year for 1,825 deaths, 599,000 injuries, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault and acquaintance rape. Additionally, 25% of students report academic problems including missing class, falling behind, performing poorly on exams and papers, and receiving lower grades as a result of alcohol use.

Talk with Your Student before Coming to Campus

One of the most important things you can do to help your student make healthy and informed decisions in college is to stay involved. Talk openly and often with your student about alcohol use prior to their arrival on campus, and keep those conversations going after they are here. And if the conversations haven’t happened before they start their first year at MSU, know that it’s never too late.

Talk to your student frequently to keep the lines of communication open. It is very important for parents to talk to their students about their expectations for behavior, and also to discuss the potential risks and consequences associated with drinking. Contrary to what you may think, parents can have considerable influence on students and students respect and listen to their parents more often than we give them credit for.

Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • How will you decide whether or not to drink?
  • What role do you think alcohol will play in your college experience?
  • What will you do if you find yourself at a party where there is only alcohol to drink?
  • What will you do if your roommate drinks and/or if your room becomes a center for this type of activity?
  • What will you do if you find a student passed out in the bathroom and/or how would you handle caring for someone who is very drunk?
  • What can I/we do to help?

Here are some tips for having a conversation with your son or daughter:

  • Choose a good time. Don’t do it if someone is rushed or has another commitment. Wait until all of you can have a relaxed and calm discussion.
  • Communicate directly and don’t talk while absorbed in another activity, like watching television, folding laundry, or texting on a mobile device.
  • Clearly state your expectations with regard to alcohol.
  • Expand the conversation to include personal safety, sexual activity, and drugs other than alcohol.
  • Make it your family's goal to talk openly and honestly about these topics.
  • Listen to your son or daughter in a non-judgmental manner and without defensiveness.
  • Encourage your student to know and understand the consequences of violating the University’s alcohol policy. Possible sanctions include substance abuse education; housing probation; dismissal from on-campus housing; university-wide disciplinary probation, suspension, or expulsion.
  • Assert your expectation that he or she will follow the University's rules and regulations and utilize its safety resources.
  • Be understanding of the fact that transition to college can be a difficult time, and students will be trying to fit in with new friends.
  • Remember that the inappropriate use of alcohol and other drugs often is a sign of deeper issues; don't be afraid to ask your son or daughter what might be going on.
  • Stress to your son or daughter the importance of looking out for others and knowing when to get help.

Education for Parents

The websites listed below are informative and interesting. They also provide useful tips for discussing college drinking with your student. According to the research, first-year students are most at risk for developing problems that can arise from social pressure and experimentation with new behaviors.