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Talking to Your College Student about Alcohol

Parent Quote

Although the University of Maryland, 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 families, 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. Research suggests that discussions just prior to starting college lead to lower alcohol consumption during the first year and lowers the risk they will experience serious alcohol-related consequences. 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 UMD, 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 and families 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 and families can have considerable influence on students and students respect and listen to their family 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 student:

  • 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 student in a non-judgmental manner and without defensiveness.
  • Let them know that at the University of Maryland, most students party responsibly, and 22% of UMD students choose not to drink at all (National College Health Assessment - University of Maryland, College Park).
  • Encourage them to know and understand the consequences of violating the University’s alcohol policy. Possible sanctions include substance abuse education; housing probation and loss of priority points; 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 student what might be going on.
  • Stress to your student the importance of looking out for others and knowing when to get help.

Keep the Conversation Going

Call, text, email, or talk with your student frequently, especially during the first six weeks of the semester. The first six weeks of the semester are very important to academic success. It is also a time when students may begin to drink heavily, which may interfere with their adjustment to college life and lead to feelings of failure. Poor adjustment to college can also result in requests to transfer or drop out.

Ask about academics, your student's social/leisure time activities, and drinking and social behaviors of roommates and friends. Join your student on campus for Family Weekend (held each year during the fall semester) or visit on other occasions. Ask to meet their friends.

You may want to ask your student questions like:

  • How is your roommate?
  • How do you like each of your classes?
  • Are you enjoying living in the residence halls or off campus?
  • How do you and your roommate settle disagreements?
  • Can you tell me a little bit about the friends you have made?
  • How are you spending your free time?  What do you do for fun?
  • Are you feeling overwhelmed?

Educate Yourself

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.

Contact Us If You Need Help Dealing with a Situation

If you are concerned about your student with regard to alcohol (e.g., experiences academic problems, reluctant to speak with you or return your calls, resists talking about friends and social time), please feel free to contact any of the on-campus support resources listed below.

Campus Resource List

Alcohol Peer Educators: 301.314.8123
Alcohol/Other Drug Education/Outreach: 301.314.8123 - Specialists focused on preventing and educating about substance use, to help students make informed decisions. 
Counseling Center: 301.314.7651
Health Center: 301.314.8161
Parent Warmline: 301.314.7651
Parent and Family Affairs: 301.314.8429
Sexual Assault Information: 301.314.2222
Student's Resident Director: 301.314.7399 or 301.314.7484
Substance Use and Intervention Programs: 301.314.8128 - Consultations, assessments, and short term treatment for students experiencing problems with alcohol or other drugs.
University Chaplains: 301.314.9893

Off Campus Support

As part of UMD's steadfast approach to advance collegiate substance-use education, intervention, and programs and to eliminate the stigma associated with addiction, we partnered with The Haven at College. The Haven at College Park Recovery Residence, conveniently located at Terrapin Row, is is a recovery community with live-in peer support, clinical counseling sessions, and drug and alcohol testing.  Available starting August 2018.  Contact the Admissions Director at 310-822-1234 or apply online. The Haven at College Park Outpatient Center, on Baltimore Avenue in Downtown College Park, is a safe, comfortable, substance-free socializing space place for college students in recovery with an innovative, evidence-based treatment program which fosters an active academic and social life for every student.  The Center is expected to open in October 2018.  Contact the Student Care Manager at 202-549-7115 or info@thehavenatcollege.com.


Talk with your student about alcohol. While you may not be able to actively monitor your student away from home, you can be available to talk and listen, and that is just as important. It can do more than help shape lives—it can save lives.


Department of Resident Life website

Penn State. (2013, March 19). Pre-college talk between parents and teens likely to lessen college drinking. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 3, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130319124306.htm

Turrisi, R., Mallett, K. A., Cleveland, M., Varvil-Weld, L., Abar, C., Scaglione, N. & Hultgren, B. (2013). An evaluation of timing and dosage of a parent based intervention to minimize college students' alcohol consumption. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 74(1), 30-40.

UniversityParent. (2014). Guide to supporting your student's freshman year. Boulder, CO: UniversityParent.