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Binge Drinking in College: Understanding a Parent’s Place to Make a Difference


Binge Drinking in College: Understanding a Parent’s Place to Make a Difference

When your daughter was six and scraped her knee falling off her bike, you took care of it. When your son was twelve and needed medicine for a cold, you took care of it. But now your child is a young adult going off to college, and suddenly, it’s so much harder to tell when you should let them fall or fail on their own and when to step in and take care of them like you always have.

Alcohol, as it usually does, further complicates the matter. College is, as they say, a time for experimenting, and drinking may well be one of the things your son or daughter experiments with. While you may or may not approve of it, drinking in college is common; it does not always indicate (or create) a physical illness or mental health problem. It becomes a problem, however, when your son or daughter starts binge drinking in college regularly.

So where do you draw that distinction—and when is it time to intervene?

Recognizing the Signs of Binge Drinking

Drinking is quite the popular pastime in college; research says that in any given month, over half of college students will probably have had at least a drink or two. While alcohol certainly is not the healthiest substance to consume, a glass now and then does not typically constitute a serious problem. However, the availability of alcohol, sometimes combined with peer pressure, can quickly turn drinking into a full-blown substance abuse disorder; more than a third of those same students are estimated to have engaged in binge drinking.

What is binge drinking, exactly? Binge drinking is technically determined by blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels; anything over 0.08 g/dL qualifies. This typically means drinking more than 4 drinks (for most women) or 5 drinks (for most men) in the space of two hours or less.

How do you, as a parent, know if your son or daughter is making a habit of binge drinking in college? You likely aren’t attending the same parties, so you probably can’t witness their drinking habits firsthand. You can, however, look for the following warning signs:

If they live at home: If they live on campus:
  • Frequently coming home nauseous or vomiting from drinking too much
  • Being unable to recall events during which they were drinking
  • Stealing alcohol or money to buy alcohol
  • Hiding alcohol or sneaking in at night to hide the fact that they stayed out late drinking
  • Choosing to go out drinking over other activities they used to enjoy or responsibilities they usually fulfill
  • Lying or trying to cover up the fact that they have been drinking
  • Avoiding contacting you or coming home in order to hide their drinking
  • Hearing from faculty or from other students about alcohol-related incidents
  • Asking for money for school supplies or other needs and using it to buy alcohol instead
  • Drinking excessively when they visit on weekends or during the holidays
In either living scenario:

  • Poor or worsening academic performance
  • Engaging in risky behaviors such as driving under the influence
  • Significant changes in personality or attitude
  • Denying that they are drinking or becoming defensive if confronted about it
  • Any hospitalizations related to drinking incidents

All of the above are potential indicators of a drinking problem.

Note that binge drinkers often do not drink every day. Rather, they tend to experience an inability to stop drinking once they start even if they “mean to” stop or know they should.

If the red flags above seem all too familiar to you, it is entirely possible that your son or daughter is binge drinking or, at the very least, has a problem with alcohol. If so, this is one problem they may likely be unable to solve on their own. So what can you do to help?

What to Do If Your Son or Daughter Is Binge Drinking in College

It’s all too tempting to want to swoop in and save your son or daughter from themselves. But unlike a scraped knee or a common cold, binge drinking is not something that you can “fix” for your child. Shielding them too strongly from what is happening will only enable them to drink, rather than help them to quit. However, you do not have to stand and watch helplessly as your child suffers, either.

If you believe your child is binge drinking in college, the following actions can help them get on the path to recovery:

  • Calmly voice your concerns. Try to attempt this only when you are calm enough to do so without accusation or judgment. The point of this conversation is not to punish or shame them but to make your child understand that you are worried and that you have good reason to be. 
  • Offer help without shielding them from the consequences of their actions. Be there when they need you, but do not take their responsibilities on as your own. Do not, for example, do homework or write “doctor’s notes” for them to keep their grades from slipping. Do help them take care of themselves when they are physically unable to do so.
  • Encourage them to talk to someone who can help. Let them know that they can come to you for help, but don’t try to force them to talk. If they cannot talk to you about what they’ve been going through, then encourage them to talk to someone else who can help, such as a school counselor, a therapist, or a doctor.
  • Speak to a counselor, therapist, or another medical professional who can help you develop a strategy for not only helping your son or daughter, but also coping on your own. It is important to take care of yourself, not just your child, during this time because the healthier you are in mind and body, the better able you will be to support their recovery.

Ultimately, you can do only so much on your own even with the support of other members of the family. The best thing you can truly do for your son or daughter if they are binge drinking is to help them get the professional help they likely need to get well and to stay well.

How Addiction Treatment Fosters Long-Term Sobriety

Binge drinking can be an insidious form of substance abuse. It is all too easy for the person drinking to convince themselves that they do not have an alcohol problem simply because they can go one or more days without drinking. And it may be easy to convince others of the same thing. After all, you don’t want to believe they have a problem any more than they do.

But if you know, or suspect, that your son or daughter is binge drinking in college, professional addiction treatment could be the key to not only confirming the problem but also addressing the underlying factors that may be triggering or compounding the issue. Stress, peer pressure, grief, and trauma are all potential causes for heavy drinking—and can all be extremely difficult to move past without the help of a trained specialist.

An expertly crafted combination of therapy and physical movement in a safe, alcohol-free setting will help your son or daughter heal both physically and mentally from the damage their drinking has wrought. Addiction specialists can work with them to create a plan for the future—a plan that will help them cope with life’s difficulties without automatically turning to alcohol for relief. Family programming, meanwhile, allows parents to actively participate in their child’s recovery process and educates family members on how they can best support that process once the initial treatment period concludes.

Watching your child struggle with something as potentially life-threatening as binge drinking can make you long for simpler days when scraped knees and head colds were the worst of their problems. But know that you are not helpless in this situation; as their parent, you have the power to help them get the support they need to get well. Alcohol abuse is not something you can “fix,” but it is something you can get through and move beyond, together, one day at a time.

If your son or daughter is binge drinking in college, New Choices Treatment Centers can help. Our addiction treatment facilities offer a safe, nonjudgmental environment in which to recover from alcohol abuse and build a strong foundation for lasting recovery. Call us at (726) 888-7003 or contact us today to find out more.