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August 11, 2022
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Start the Conversation Before School Starts: Talking to Your College-Bound Teen About Alcohol Use
Attention newsroom managers: Nebraska DHHS shot an on-camera interview with Danielle Wing, prevention system administrator for the Division of Behavioral Health. Feel free to add her soundbites to your story.
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Lincoln – As your teenager heads off to college, have one of the most important talks you’ll have with your child: the danger of using alcohol.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the first six weeks of a student’s first year in college are a vulnerable time for underage drinking and harmful alcohol-related consequences. This is due to the social pressures students may face at the start of the academic year.
“Keep in mind when it comes to substance use, parents are the most important influence,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health. “That’s why it’s important to talk — and listen — to your teen. Talk about the short- and long-term consequences and effects drugs and alcohol can have on their mental and physical health, safety, and ability to make good decisions. And most importantly, help your teen draw up a plan to avoid alcohol and drugs.”
According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2020, 50.0% of people aged 12 or older (or 138.5 million people) used alcohol in the past month (i.e., current alcohol users. Among the 138.5 million people who were current alcohol users, 61.6 million people (or 44.4%) were classified as binge drinkers and 17.7 million people (28.8% of current binge drinkers and 12.8% of current alcohol users) were classified as heavy drinkers. The percentage of people who were past month binge alcohol users was highest among young adults aged 18 to 25 (31.4%) compared with 22.9% of adults aged 26 or older and 4.1% of adolescents aged 12 to 17.
The Nebraska DHHS Division of Behavioral Health is working under the SAMHSA Strategic Prevention Framework-Partnerships for Success (SPF-PFS) grant which aims at reducing underage drinking and binge drinking by creating community partnerships across the state and addressing youth alcohol use. Many of the activities include youth alcohol use awareness and youth education. Parents can play an integral role in strengthening these efforts and continuing to help Nebraska see a downward trend in youth alcohol use and abuse.
The consequences of harmful and underage drinking by college students are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many parents realize. The most recent statistics from NIAAA indicates that drinking by college students ages 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,519 student deaths each year. In addition, there are an estimated 696,000 assaults by students who had been drinking and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year. Other consequences include suicide attempts, health problems, injuries, unsafe sexual behavior, and driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as vandalism, damage, and involvement with the police.
Parents can help by:
- Looking for opportunities to raise the topic of alcohol naturally. Talking about majors and course selection can easily lead to a conversation about how alcohol use can disrupt academic success and career options. Emphasize that any decisions about alcohol need to be made in accordance with the law and their health.
- Housing selection can generate discussions about substance-free residence halls.
- Discuss ways to handle situations where alcohol use by other students might create a problem, such as interrupted study time or unwanted sexual advances.
- Emphasize that no matter where alcohol is available, underage drinking represents a risk and a choice that has consequences. Inquire about alcohol-free spaces and sober tailgates at the school.
- Discuss reasons not to drink. Explain the risks of alcohol, and appeal to your teen’s life goals. If you have a family history of alcoholism or drinking problems, be honest. Explain that your teen might be more vulnerable to developing a drinking problem.
- 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.
- 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 strategies your teen can use to refuse to drink alcohol in these settings.
- Be prepared for questions. Your teen might ask if you drank alcohol when you were underage. If you chose to drink, share an example of a negative consequence of your drinking.
- Remind your student that 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.
- Make sure students know the signs of alcohol overdose or an alcohol-related problem, and how to help. Signs of an alcohol overdose include slow or irregular (10 seconds or more between breaths) breathing, vomiting, mental confusion, slow heart rate, stupor, loss of consciousness or coma, and bluish or pale skin.
Help is available. If you or a loved one need assistance, please reach out to:
- Your faith-based leader, your healthcare professional, or student health center on campus.
- Nebraska Family Helpline – Any question, any time. (888) 866-8660
- Rural Response Hotline, (800) 464-0258
- Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (oprime dos para Español) or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Dial 988 from your landline or cell phone.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
- National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)