Guest Column: Talking to your Student about Substance Abuse
Jeannette Longtin, HSU Parent
Jeannette Longtin is the mom of HSU sophomore Stacey Longtin-Horton and senior director of the Healthy Novato Project.
As a mom, I have been deeply affected by the frequent stories of young adults in college whose lives have ended unnecessarily with a mistake of poor judgment. Most of us know of at least one family in our communities whose lives have changed forever from such a loss. Though I’ve been talking with my boys since they were in middle school about the dangers and health risks associated with adolescent (age 12 – 25) alcohol use, I am nonetheless a mom and sometimes worry about their safety and well-being. April is National Alcohol Awareness Month—an opportunity to inform ourselves about what is happening on and around college campuses and likely within our children’s circle of friends and acquaintances. It is also an opportunity to ponder the question, “When was the last time you talked with your child about substance use?”
During my son’s freshman year at HSU, he called 911 three times on behalf of friends who were in danger of losing their lives from excessive alcohol use. Thankfully, he thought to do something about it and not “just let them sleep it off.” I can’t help but think that the many conversations we had about “peer regard”—caring about and for one’s peers—was a voice in his head that helped him do the right thing and essentially save lives. The risks of alcohol poisoning: life threatening dehydration, aspirating vomit, having a fall injury, walking out into traffic, driving while intoxicated, sexual assault, memory loss, car crashes, blackouts and effects on brain development are real, especially when binge drinking, as college students often do.
The Centers for Disease Control and SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) define binge drinking as 5 or more drinks for males and 4 or more drinks for females within a 2-hour period. This does not take into account body weight, genetics, existing medical conditions and family pre-disposition to dependency. Alcohol acts as a stimulant on the adolescent brain, increasing the propensity to engage in risk-taking behaviors. In addition to binge drinking, college students frequently:
- Mix alcohol with prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Ritalin, and Adderall
- Mix alcohol with “recreational drugs” such as Molly/Ecstasy
- Mix prescription Codeine cough syrup with soda and Skittles, to create drank, purple drank or sizzurp—a lethal cocktail alone and even more so when mixed with alcohol.
- Use drugs such as marijuana along with alcohol.
- Use beer bongs and chug liquor where quantity goes unnoticed.
So what can you do with this information?
- Use this guest column as a springboard to learn more.
- Start conversations with your child about substance use.
- Use a conversational tone and don’t preach. Tell them what you learned.
- Don’t be judgmental. Be interested and inquisitive while gaining insight into their thinking on the subject.
- FaceTime or Skype when you are having such conversations. It’s a chance to see their beautiful face and have eye contact when talking about such an important topic.
- Don’t feel like you need to get it all out in one conversation. This is a “many conversations” topic and one that your child may be resistant to the first time around.
- Be brave. Your love for your child is all the permission you need to bring up subjects that are important to you.
- Inquire, “Are kids doing these things at parties you go to?” Follow up by stating your loving concerns and your hopes for their safety, health and well-being.
- Monitor parties when your student comes home on break.
- Many communities have Social Host ordinances which can involve arrest and hefty fines for both the homeowner and student (18 and over) who supplies alcohol to underage drinkers. Learn about the laws and ordinances in your community.
- Instruct your child to call 911 or their RA if there is ever a concern about a friend. It is better to be safe than sorry.
When our children go off to college, they are in many ways on their own. However, our continued involvement is the foundation and safety net that can help them have a safe college experience.
Want to Write a Guest Column?
Are you the parent or family member of a current HSU student? Interested in sharing tips and advice with other HSU parents online? We’re interested in reading what you have to say! Possible column ideas include: “5 Things You Wish You’d Known Before Sending Your Child to College” and “Ways To Support your Student While They're Away.” We want your perspective and ideas! Send your name, contact info and a few column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.