Talking With Your College-Bound Young Adult About Alcohol
Students preparing to attend college have already taken several steps toward independence.
Deciding where to go to college, what career path to pursue, and how to finance an advanced education are all choices in learning how to be an adult. But they are not there yet. Young adults still need and value their parents’ guidance as they make decisions about their future. One of these decisions will be about alcohol use at college—and parents represent the best source of advice on the issue.
Talk with your young adult about avoiding underage drinking, even if you suspect alcohol use during high school.
Research suggests that teens who talked with their parents about alcohol avoidance strategies before they began their first year of college were more likely to avoid alcohol, limit its use, and spend less time with heavy-drinking peers.
College can overwhelm new students as they deal with changing social and academic expectations and the responsibilities that come with being on their own. It can be so challenging that about one-third of first-year students fail to enroll for their second year.
Some students may use alcohol as a way to cope with college pressures. They also might believe that alcohol use is common and socially expected among their new friends, and drink to fit in. Students, however, tend to significantly overestimate how often their fellow students use alcohol.
Due to these and other reasons, your young adult is entering an environment where alcohol use among 18- to 20-year-olds escalates dramatically. Overall, full-time first-year students tend to drink more than their peers who do not attend college—and suffer significantly more alcohol-related consequences.
Many colleges and universities are aware that communication between parents and students can support academic success. Contact the college your young adult will be attending for materials that offer tips on maintaining contact with students or talking about alcohol.
Learn about college alcohol policies at www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov
Source: SAMHSA Publication # SMA15-4897
"IT'S JUST A LITTLE WEED! IT'S NOT LIKE I'M DOING DRUGS,"¯
"CHILL OUT, GUYS!" 'Brendan' yelled at his parents.
They had all come to my office after it became known that this 14-year-old was using marijuana. "IT'S JUST A LITTLE WEED! IT'S NOT LIKE I'M DOING DRUGS,"¯ he pleaded, "I'M NOT DRINKING THE WATER IN FLINT!"¯ He explained that "drinking the water in Flint"¯ is slang for doing dangerous drugs, as in consuming the lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan. Mom was 110% opposed to the pot. But Dad turned to me and said, "You know, it is confusing. They're about to legalize weed everywhere, so can it really be that bad? I mean, I smoked a little back in the day and I do OK."¯ Brendan grinned at me. He thought he just won. I worried he had just lost.
It is confusing. With weekly sound bites about pot's medical benefits, legalization imminent or existing in many states, decriminalization happening about everywhere and cute cartoon pot ads in publications, can weed really be bad? For teens, it clearly is. The "powers that be"¯ have pretty much decided weed is OK for adults without having bothered to first read the science which documents very scary effects, especially for teen users. Since adolescents have interpreted these adult actions as saying pot is fine, the mythology of marijuana is taking teen lives every day. Some die quick, as in graduating to more lethal drugs. Others slowly bleed out over decades of having their souls stolen one small piece at a time.
So what does the latest science say?
So what to do?
- Developing teen brains are much "softer"¯ than adult brains, and brain growth does not finish until age 25. Many adults and teenagers assume that research claiming weed is harmless for adults (though highly disputed) applies to teens as well. It does not. This fact should be posted everyplace weed is mentioned (as with cigarette warnings).
- Teen brains are much more powerfully whacked by all drugs, weed included. Kids who start using weed at age 14 have a 400% increased risk of full-blown addiction over those who postpone use until adulthood. Adults who first used weed before age 16 (early smokers) use over twice the amount as those who started after age 16 (later smokers).
- When compared as adults, early smokers made twice as many mistakes on tests of executive function (i.e. memory, planning, abstract thinking, impulse control, problem solving) as did later smokers.
- Brain scans have shown structural and functional brain changes beginning in teens shortly after starting use. These changes also degrade the brain's regions involved with learning, and are still measureable one week after use. With prolonged use of 4 times per week, substantial decreases in IQ were measured which appear to be permanent, remaining even ten years after stopping use.
- THC concentrations (weed's active ingredient) have increased 300% to 600% over thirty years. So much for, "I smoked a little back in the day."¯ Weed should be renamed since it's not the same drug at all.
Focus on the fight you can win, namely letting your kids know before their first use that your loving and non-negotiable expectation is that they will not use ANY drugs before age 21 (yes, alcohol is a dangerous teen drug as well). A parental expectation is not a police state. Rather it is a lovingly expressed, firmly held, zero-tolerance position that a parent will do everything possible to prevent drug use by their children. While no parental strategy precludes all experimentation, that "iron-fist, velvet glove"¯ tactic with teens is an effective limiter of drug use, producing young adults who are far less prone to heavy use and addiction.
And if your kid offers Brendan's argument that weed use is "not drinking the water in Flint,"¯ feel free to share the amazing irony of that statement: aside from addiction, the effects of teen marijuana use are essentially the same as lead poisoning.
Yo' Brendan! Want ice with that?
Dr. Michael J. Bradley
is a practicing adolescent psychologist, an award-winning author, and a charismatic public speaker who has enthused standing-room-only crowds
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Jacobus, J., & Tapert, S. F. (2014). Effects of cannabis on the adolescent brain. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 2186-2193.
Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2015). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use: 1975-2014. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research. Retrieved from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2014.pdf.
Meier, M. H., Caspi, A., Ambler, A., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Keefe, R. S. E.
Meier MH, Caspi A, Ambler A, et al. Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to mid-life. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012;109:E2657-64. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1206820109
Weir, K. Marijuana and the developing brain. APA Monitor, November 2015, Vol 46, No. 10