College is an at-risk environment. Every child knows that there are things which can happen at college that parents know may occur but may not know exactly what the circumstances are for the child. Many students who go to college do not drink or become addicted to substances but there are others who also turn to drugs or alcohol for many reasons, typically at a higher rate than the general population.
Addiction or Experimentation?
Often, a period of time when first-year students do experimenting tests limits and boundaries like partying but it can quickly get out of hand. By the middle of the semester, reality sets in and responsibilities catch up. Open lines of communication are helpful but unless there are reasons to think something may be wrong, trust is the biggest issue for parents of college age students. If grades are slipping or the student is missing class, trouble may be brewing. This goes for if the student talks about or seems to experiment with going to lots of bar crawls and living for the next big party rather than focusing on studies.
Paying attention to triggers in a student can help provide insight into the individual’s situation. Other steps that may be taken can involve parental support such as:
- Being honest about what is going on
- Drink non-alcoholic beverages at parties
- Get friends to do sober activities
- Make friends if the only ones to hang with are using drugs or drinking
- Join new clubs and teams
Steps for Parents
If something does not feel right, it is OK to tell the child to check in time to time and see what is going on. As a parent, it is easy to tell a student about concerns and listen actively while the child talks. If worries continue, call the dean of students or head of student affairs to let them know what is going on.
Parents may also want to check with the resident assistant (RA) responsible for the young people on the floor. Since RAs are students, privacy laws do not apply but each school is different. If all else fails, it may take getting to college and visually seeing what he or she is doing to ensure safety. Ultimately, if a child is struggling, the next step is to talk to a therapist or counselor with the child or insist the child go and seek help.
When a student suspects drinking or drug use is out of hand, it may help to go to the counseling center or seek support in the following ways:
- Trusted coach
- Faculty member of a club
- Health clinic
- Member of resident life staff
- Off-campus counselor
- Clergy member
The best thing to do is fight to stay in school while battling addiction but it may not always be possible. Sometimes a break is needed for treatment to get back on the child’s feet and reassess priorities for how to approach finishing school at that point.
The Villa provides information and resources to families of students struggling with addiction. If your college student is struggling to keep sober, call us to find out how we can help you seek the right resources to support the student in getting necessary help.