Discussing alcohol with your college student – Part 2

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On March 12, 2024

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Many college students make responsible decisions about drinking alcohol. However, sometimes young adults can make risky decisions. Talking to your college age student about alcohol, underage drinking, and binge drinking is critical, and ongoing communication is key to promote safety. To understand the difference between low and high risk behaviors see Part 1 of this article.


Before sending your high school graduate off to college, discuss your family beliefs, attitudes, and expectations when it comes to alcohol. Discuss various reasons why to refuse a drink and how to say NO. These may include:

  • It’s illegal to drink underage.
  • Substance use disorders (like alcoholism) run in your family.
  • It is not in line with your family’s belief system or religion.
  • You don’t want to get in trouble with teachers, coaches, or residential assistants.

Realize that your college-bound student will most likely be in a social situation where drinking is happening, and some of the people they are with could be of legal drinking age. Discuss how they should decide whether or not to refuse a drink, and talk about the various reasons to avoid alcohol and how and when to say “no.”

Remind them that the decisions they make after drinking are still their decisions, and that they are responsible for them. These decisions should align with your student’s values as well!

Remind them that the legal drinking age is 21 and engaging in underage drinking is against the law.


Remember that you don’t want to talk about alcohol all by itself; drinking and binge drinking do not exist in a vacuum. You want to remind your student to be aware of why people are drinking and the environment in which they are drinking.

For instance, talk to your college-aged student about being cautious of situations or parties that are designed to conceal what’s happening inside. There’s probably a reason that they are held in secret, and that should be a warning sign to be extra vigilant.

Parties where non-drinkers aren’t welcome, where the alcohol content of what is being served isn’t clear (for example when a pre-mixed punch is being served), and where games are being played to accelerate and produce intoxication are higher risk. Alcohol intake should decrease when risk is increased!

Just as when they were little and learning to cross the street or go trick-or-treating, the college social scene is also a time to activate the “buddy system” and to emphasize the importance of keeping an eye on friends and being prepared to step in if someone has overconsumed or needs help getting home safely.

Also discuss navigating and avoiding high-risk situations. Teach your college student to never leave any drink unattended—whether or not the beverage contains alcohol. And don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t know, especially if you did not see where it came from.


When it comes to navigating the college social scene, attitude is everything. This is true whether you are discussing a positive mindset, pessimistic behavior, or throwing caution to the wind. A few things to include in your conversation are:

  • Purposefully overconsuming—drinking to get drunk—is unacceptable and dangerous.
  • Drinking to cope with stress, to forget problems or to try to feel comfortable in a situation that feels unsafe or threatening is never a good idea.
  • Your mindset—positive or negative—will impact your actions, whether you chose to drink alcohol or not.
  • Risky decisions multiply. The decision to overconsume will most likely not be the only bad choice you make.


Out of sight may be out of mind for some things, but not for you and your college-aged kids (they are still your kids after all!). Try these five tips for staying in touch with your students to support them in making healthy decisions when it comes to school, friends, and behaviors.

  • Schedule a set time to talk and catch up with your student.
  • When you talk, listen for warning signs such as disengagement, apathy, or symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  • Look for signs of lifestyle changes in your student such as a change in appearance, demeanor, or friends.
  • Exchange contact information with your student’s roommates, friends, residential assistant, or their peers’ parents.
  • Follow each other on social media—but be aware that many young adults have multiple accounts on the same platform.

Parents, you are doing a great job! Keep up the good work – just look at the declines in underage drinking to see the difference you are making. When you talk, your kids—even your college kids—hear you and are listening. These conversations will make a big difference in the decisions they make as they head off to college—and will resonate during their time on campus and beyond. For more resources about talking to your college-aged kids, visit our On Responsibility page, featuring Tiffany Jones and Dr. Patrick Kilcarr, as they discuss some of the risks facing teens and how to communicate with them to make the transition from high school to college smooth and successful.


Article adapted from https://www.responsibility.org/prevent-underage-drinking/responsibility-on-campus/parents-youre-not-done-yet/. Please Note: Missouri S&T does not endorse or have a relationship with SOURCE and articles are provided for information purposes only.  Missouri S&T and SOURCE do not assume responsibility for error or omission in materials.  

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On March 12, 2024. Posted in Parents and Family