Courtney Cantor was a freshman at the University of Michigan. On October 15, 1998, she attended a keg party at a campus fraternity house. Intoxicated and staggering, she took a cab to her dorm and climbed up a ladder to her loft bed. She fell through her dorm window to her death, six stories below. Courtney Cantor became one of about fifteen hundred college students per year whose deaths are linked to heavy drinking.
Colleges do their best to curb drinking, but it seems entrenched. Henry Wechsler, author of a comprehensive Harvard study on binge drinking, said “Given all the action on college campuses to deal with the problem and given the attention placed on it, the fact that it stays so stable shows what a difficult problem it is.”
How much did your child drink in high school? About half the parents of teenage alcoholics are clueless about what’s going on. The vast majority of parents (98% in the Harvard study) believe their children attend parties that are non-alcoholic and supervised, yet half their children tell the same researchers that they go to parties with no adults present and where alcohol is freely available.
Those college students who are most likely to become heavy drinkers started in high school or even middle school. Usually they are below-average students, who are clinically depressed and use drinking as a coping mechanism.
Alcoholism begins young, usually before age 21. However, most alcoholics do not get treatment until after age 30. By that time, the disease has progressed into its chronic, severe late stages.
If you discover that your high school or college-aged student is abusing alcohol, intervene at once. The earlier the disease is treated, the better the chances of recovery.
Is your child’s college a “party school”? Those colleges that tend to have more heavy drinkers are in the Northeast, have fraternities and sororities, and prominent sports teams. When you visit prospective campuses, see if the atmosphere promotes drinking. How many bars surround the campus? Do big pyramids of beer bottles decorate the dorms? Do bulletin boards advertise “keg” parties? Question the campus police about drinking infractions. Look at campus crime reports. How many years does it take the average student to graduate?
Can your child handle the pressures of Greek life? The average college student consumes five drinks a week. The average fraternity member consumes sixteen. Although some frat and sorority houses have become alcohol-free, that often means that the parties have simply been moved to a different location.
Keep a close watch the first six weeks of college. The very beginning of freshman year is a crucial time for your child. He or she is away from home for the first time, facing academic pressures, and trying to fit into campus life. About 25% of these new freshmen (including boys) get homesick. This is the time that many heavy binge drinkers start their habit. Email and phone your student, send care packages, and keep an open line of communication in this crucial period.
Get grade reports. Colleges are under no legal obligation to send you a copy of your student’s grades if he or she is over 18. Binge drinking is associated with academic failure. Your child’s grades are one indication of how well he or she is functioning at college.