At this time of year, many young people are heading off to college or getting ready to move out on their own. For the first time, these newly independent young people will have freedom to make many life choices for themselves. One of the new experiences is likely to be easy access to lots of alcohol on and around campus and lots of pressure from friends to drink a lot of it. Research shows that people in their late teens to early 20s generally drink more heavily than at any other time in their lives. The good news is parents can make a huge difference. Young adults are less likely to drink or take drugs when their parents have talked to them about those substances and the problems they can cause.
What are the alcohol-related problems we should talk to our children about? The most common are: alcohol poisoning, which may lead to death; accidental death (falls from roofs or off decks, car accidents); sexual assault (1 in 5 college women and 1 in 16 men are raped); and other violent crimes (robbery, assaults).
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 1,800 college students die each year from alcohol-related incidents. Each year, about 97,000 college students report that they were the victim of an alcohol-related sexual assault and many more never report. About 600,000 students report being the victim of alcohol-related assault. Alcohol consumption is also associated with poor grades, depression and health problems.
Just telling young people to stay away from alcohol or drugs is not enough. One of the biggest threats to college students may be the belief that nothing bad will happen to them. Young people need to be taught drunk people are more vulnerable to being sexually assaulted. A study published in 2015 showed decreases in campus sexual assaults for first-year female students when they were taught about safety skills, self-defense and sexual assault risks, including that alcohol makes them likely to be assaulted. We also know rapists intentionally use alcohol to get their victims to be unable to make coherent choices about their own safety.
Here are some suggestions for ongoing conversations with teens and young adults in our lives:
• It's OK to set limits about drinking and not give in to peer pressure about drinking too much.
• Drinking a lot can cause alcohol poisoning. The alcohol content in sweet drinks, such as Jell-O shots, can be really high and people tend to drink these quickly. It's possible to drink a deadly amount of alcohol before passing out.
• If someone passes out, call for help immediately. Don't assume the person will be fine by "sleeping it off." They can die from alcohol poisoning or choking on their own vomit.
• Being drunk makes them vulnerable to sexual assault and other crimes.
• Only go to parties or bars with friends and agree to keep an eye on each other and each other's drinks. "Drug-facilitated rape" is a huge issue. Perpetrators slip drugs into unattended drinks or offer spiked drinks to potential victims. Intervene if it looks like someone is being targeted or drinking too much.
• A person who is out of it because of drugs, alcohol or any other reason cannot give consent.
Remember to keep up these conversations about drinking. Gently remind young people to drink responsibly for the safety of themselves, their friends and their community.
Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc., which offers free, confidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence and stalking; community and school violence prevention programs; re-education BIP groups for domestic violence offenders; shelter; and a community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV's 24-hour crisis line at (575) 758-9888 or visit TaosCAV.org.