Talking to Your Teen about Drinking in College

A group of four college students in a circle raising their glasses in a cheer.

Talking to Your Teen about Drinking in College

Published April 24, 2019 | Last Updated April 12th, 2024 at 09:59 am

A group of four college students in a circle raising their glasses in a cheer.

Your son or daughter will be leaving for college before you know it, and hopefully you’ve had conversations about underage drinking long before now.

The importance of such talks can’t be stressed enough.

Educating Students About Drinking: The Earlier the Better

In reality, age-appropriate talks about alcohol — for example, what it does in your body, how most people drink responsibly but some get into trouble — should start when a child is young and be repeated from time to time.  

Hopefully, the subject is part of all school health classes today as well.

Even if you haven’t discussed  teen drinking much at home, kids are hearing about it — whether about drinking at proms and graduation, young drivers having accidents after drinking, or teens ending up in emergency rooms for alcohol poisoning.

Each year, at least one college hazing ritual involving alcohol that results in a fatality seems to hit the media, too.

Studies have found that kids are drinking less today, but underage drinking is still a problem.

Experts say that students may experiment with drinking around age 14 or 15, and an article in National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism  reports that approximately eight percent of 12 to 20 years old have engaged in binge drinking in the last month, defined as 5 or more drinks for males in two hours, and 4 or more for females.

Researchers say that the earlier a person starts abusing alcohol (and other substances), the more prone they are to developing an addiction.

You’ve also likely heard that teen brains are still developing, and that early alcohol and drug use can result in cognitive or learning difficulties.

It can also result in impaired judgment, which in turn can result in risky behavior or poor decisions, and may involve sexual activity or violence.

If you need more proof that there’s a problem, here’s what the Centers for Disease Control has to say: Fact Sheets on Underage Drinking.

Have the Drinking Talk Before College

“I HAVE talked with my child about drinking,” you may say.

But because of the dangers, it may be helpful to have a formal, sit-down conversation with your child before he or she leaves for college and set boundaries, even with a “contract” like you might have had when they started driving.

Let them know the consequences they face if they do drink at college, both from the college (this info should be on the college website) and from you. That means you have to decide what you’ll do if they are caught drinking. 

You want them to take this next step to adulthood, but as parents, you still exert a lot of influence, even if teens are no longer under your roof.

 Note: Here’s an article on HuffPost on “The Colleges That Discipline Students the Most for Liquor Law Violations.

As a college freshman, your son or daughter will be facing new peer pressure and will be trying to fit in with a new group of people. He or she may be homesick for a bit, and anxious.

Stress is normal while a student adjusts, but if your child mentions physical problems or sounds excessively worried, or if some of their fears are irrational, you may need to step in. That may mean a visit, or a talk with, a professional.

Here are some tips on how to talk to your teen while they’re still in junior high or high school, and what to say:

  • Ask them if they’re continuing to learn about alcohol in school, perhaps in health class, and what they’ve learned.
  • Don’t assume that just because your child is a top student or athlete, he or she will not start drinking. You’re in denial if you believe that.
  • Ask them about what’s going on with their classmates. Do they know of kids who seem to have a problem? Have they seen drinking at parties? What would they do if offered a drink? It’s a way to start the conversation (or ideally, continue the conversation).
  • Ask about their own drinking. Have they been offered a drink? Don’t avoid the conversation; that’s being in denial, too. (By age 18, more than 70% of teens have had at least one drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.) Make sure they know that you don’t want them to lie, but that you don’t agree with underage drinking, and review the reasons.
  • Keep liquor in your home locked up. Don’t make it easy for young people to have access to liquor.
  • Model appropriate behavior yourself. There’s having a glass of wine with dinner, and then there’s overdoing it. If you’re having a few beers or a couple of glasses of wine to “take the edge off” after work, you’re showing them that it’s OK to make alcohol a stress relieve

Binge Drinking in College

And after your student starts college:

  • Attend Parent’s Weekend and drop in unexpectedly if you’re not sure what’s going on.
  • When your child returns home, let him or her know that even though they’re in college now, you still don’t approve of underage drinking. You aren’t doing your child any favors (and don’t think you’re teaching them to drink responsibly) if you allow underage drinking at home.
  • Remind your student that underage drinking is illegal.
  • Explain the symptoms and dangers of binge drinking (excessive drinking over a short period of time).


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

👉 Looking for expert help on the road to college? See our Preferred Partner List!

Other Articles You Might Like:

Dear Roadie: Should I Drug Test My Son?

What’s It Like Attending Top Party Schools?

The 7 Awkward (Yet Essential) Talks to Have Before Your College-Bound Kid Flies the Nest




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