Health & Safety

The Guide to Low-Risk Drinking

By Randy Haveson, author of Party with a Plan- The College Edition

I talk to many parents who are terrified when they think about their children going off to college. They hear the horror stories of college life and think, “What if that happens to my kid?” Keep in mind that the stories you hear on the news are sensationalized. These are the out of the ordinary stories. Yes, 1,800 college students die from alcohol or other drugs every year. But 19,998,200 don’t! You will never hear on the news, “Dorm room full of college students ate pizza, watched movies and laughed until 3 o’clock in the morning. No one drank alcohol or used drugs. Details at 11!”

A consistent statistic out of the Core Institute and SAMHSA is that about 24% of all college students don’t drink at all and less than 20% drink three or more times per week. So the old adage, “Everybody drinks” is just not accurate.

If you are the parent of a college student, here are some tips you can use to assist your child in making good decisions around alcohol in college.

• Talk to them. Have an honest discussion about your fears and how you want them to make good decisions, especially around alcohol. Discuss the low-risk guidelines and ask them if they make sense.

• Discuss how alcohol is the fuel for most other problems that can occur. Let them know that 75% of all sexual assaults happen when one or both people are under the influence. Most fights, accidents, and car wrecks happen when someone is under the influence.

• Talk about their goals and dreams for college and discuss what might get in their way. Talk about how to lower their risk for problems or detours.

• If you used or drank in college, don’t glamorize your use or experiences. The more you present high- risk choices as acceptable or even desirable, the more likely your child is to move in that direction. Keep in mind that it is a different world today. Drugs are more powerful, consequences are more severe, and the pressure students are under today can be overwhelming.

• Don’t drink with them. Many parents feel like they need to normalize alcohol by drinking with their child. Big mistake. You’ve just reinforced that drinking under age is okay. They will reason that if it’s okay to drink with you, then it’s going to be okay to drink with their friends later on. Research shows that drinking alcohol with your child has a tendency to cause more high risk use later on.

• If you see signs that there’s a problem, don’t ignore them. Many parents think, “Maybe the problem will go away or solve itself.” Most of the time, it doesn’t. If you notice a change in behavior, change in friends, dropping grades, or a new apathy, look for help or support. Most campuses have counseling centers, social workers, or alcohol and other drug education coordinators.

The goal is to keep an open dialogue and continue the conversation over and over again. Keep in mind, when you taught your child how to drive you didn’t go over the rules of the road one time. You went over them multiple times. The same theory holds true here too.


About the Author

Randy Haveson, M.A. is an expert on issues of alcohol and other drug use and abuse. He has been in the substance abuse field since 1986 and in higher education since 1990. He is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and life coach. Recently he added author to his list of professions when he wrote the book, Party with a Plan- The College Edition. In this book he educates people, especially college students, on a research based method that clearly defines how to make low-risk choices with alcohol. For more information, go to

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