Talking about alcohol use: campus experts offer tips on keeping students safe

Parents should be equal partners with CMU in educating students about the dangers of alcohol, says Michelle Veith, associate director of residence life.

“Of course we’d like to think that all our students are going to follow the laws of Michigan, but we’re realistic,” Veith says. “We know some will make the choice to drink.”

College drinking is widespread, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. About four out of five college students drink alcohol, the Institute reports. And about half of the students who drink also consume alcohol through binge drinking.

“Have conversations with your son or daughter this summer before they leave for campus,” Veith says. “Then we’ll talk to them again when they get here.”

After a few weeks, when they visit home, talk to them again, she says. Check in. Ask how their life is, how they spend their weekend nights.

“Keep the conversation going,” she says.

“Frame it as a health and safety issue, as opposed to just saying ‘Don’t drink,’” suggests Ross Rapaport, director of the CMU Counseling Center. “They need to know the risks and dangers of binge drinking.

“If you choose to drink, know how to do it so health and safety risks are reduced,” Rapaport says. “Limit the amount. Know what you’re drinking. Count your drinks. Keep your eye on your drink. Know it’s OK to choose not to drink.

“You don’t have to be an alcoholic to encounter some serious consequences due to alcohol abuse,” Rapaport says. “They can range from a hangover to missing classes to interfering with studies, to sexual aggression or violent behavior.”

What information makes the most impact on a college student? Everybody’s different, Veith says.

Some will take the legal consequences most seriously, when they hear they can be cited for Minor in Possession and issued a ticket simply because they have alcohol in their system.

“The law considers your body a container,” she says. “You don't have to be carrying a bottle of alcohol to get an MIP.”

Other students will be shaken by the sight of an ambulance carrying a friend to the hospital for alcohol poisoning.

Veith says 25 percent of college students report alcohol has affected their academics, from missed classes to failing grades.

“The brain isn't fully formed until age 24 or 25,” she says. “Alcohol misuse can impact brain development.”

For some students, Veith says, “Once they realize the amount of calories they’re consuming from alcohol, they think twice about how much they’re going to drink.

“Talk to them,” she says. “Tell them it's all about the choices they make. They’ll have easy ones and hard ones.”

Many parents feel they’ve already had this alcohol talk, when their sons and daughters were in high school.

This is different, Veith says.

“They truly are out on their own now,” she says. “They’re not returning home at night to mom or dad. They have that piece of freedom and they’ll be exposed to a lot more.”

“The messages don't change, but keep giving them,” she says. “Enforce all the good things you’ve already taught them. They still need you, even though they might roll their eyes and say, ‘I know, Mom.’ When students are worried or scared, they still call mom and dad.”

Concerned? Veith and Rapaport suggest calling the counselor in residence in your student’s residence hall or the Counseling Center in Foust Hall. Both can help.

The Just For Parents newsletter, recently sent from the Office of Residence Life’s Counselor in Residence program, offers more information on this topic.

All incoming freshmen are required to take an on-line alcohol education course by the time school starts.

“Students grumble about it, but we’re going to continue it,” Veith says, “because we take this seriously.”

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Phone: 989-774-4000

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