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'The consequences of harmful and underage drinking by college students are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many parents realize,' says the DHHS

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Posted at 12:01 PM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 13:01:47-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — As colleges start back, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is asking people to have “a frank conversation with your college-bound teen about alcohol” and the danger it could put them in.

The DHHS provided the following:

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the first six weeks of a student’s first year in college are a vulnerable time for harmful and underage college drinking and alcohol-related consequences because of student expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year.

“Research shows that students who abstain from drinking often do so because their parents discussed alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. “Having a plan to avoid alcohol and drug use can help teens make better choices. Talk with your teens about what they would do if faced with a difficult decision about alcohol and drugs.”

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 52.5 percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and 33 percent engaged in binge drinking in the past month. NSDUH defines binge drinking as 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men and 4 or more drinks on an occasion for women. In addition, 8.2 percent engaged in heavy alcohol use (defined by NSDUH as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month). These binge drinking and heavy alcohol use rates are both higher than for those not attending college.

The Nebraska DHHS Division of Behavioral Health is working under the SAMHSA Strategic Prevention Framework-Partnerships for Success (SPF-PFS) grant which aims at reducing underage drinking and binge drinking through creating community partnerships across the state and addressing youth alcohol use. Many of the activities include youth alcohol use awareness and youth education. Parents can play an integral role in strengthening these efforts and continue to help Nebraska see a downward trend in youth alcohol use and abuse.

“Issues surrounding underage drinking and binge drinking may look different from one community to the next," Dawson continued. “Our coalitions across the state do an outstanding job in utilizing the data they have to most effectively plan and implement prevention activities whether that is awareness campaigns, education materials, policy work, or environmental changes. Parents can play an integral role in reinforcing that message and those core values to their children."

The consequences of harmful and underage drinking by college students are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many parents realize.

The most recent statistics from NIAAA indicates that drinking by college students ages 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,519 student deaths each year. In addition, there are an estimated 696,000 assaults by students who had been drinking and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year. Other consequences include suicide attempts, health problems, injuries, unsafe sexual behavior, and driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as vandalism, damage, and involvement with the police.

Many colleges in Nebraska are implementing social norms campaigns. Based on the assumption that inaccurate normative beliefs such as 'everybody drinks' lead to problem drinking behaviors among underage youth, social norms campaigns use scientific evidence (e.g., consumption data) to promote accurate, healthy norms about alcohol use.

Parents can help by:

  • Looking for opportunities to raise the topic of alcohol naturally. Talking about majors and course selection can easily lead to a conversation about the ways in which alcohol use can disrupt academic success and career options. Emphasize that any decisions about alcohol need to be made in accordance with the law and their health.
  • Housing selection can generate discussions about substance-free residence halls.
  • Discussing ways to handle situations where alcohol use by other students might create a problem, such as interrupted study time or unwanted sexual advances.
  • Emphasizing that no matter where alcohol is available, underage drinking represents a risk and a choice that has consequences. Inquire about alcohol-free spaces and sober tailgates at the school.
  • Discussing reasons not to drink. Explain the risks of alcohol, and appeal to your teen's life goals. If you have a family history of alcoholism or drinking problems, be honest. Explain that your teen might be more vulnerable to developing a drinking problem.
  • Teaching your college student to never leave any drink unattended—whether or not the beverage contains alcohol. And don't accept a drink from someone you don't know, especially if you did not see where it came from.
  • Realizing that your college-bound student will most likely be in a social situation where drinking is happening, and some of the people they are with could be of legal drinking age. Discuss how they should decide whether or not to refuse a drink.
  • Being prepared for questions. Your teen might ask if you drank alcohol when you were underage. If you chose to drink, share an example of a negative consequence of your drinking.
  • Reminding your student that drinking to cope with stress, to forget problems, or to try to feel comfortable in a situation that feels unsafe or threatening is never a good idea.
  • Making sure students know the signs of alcohol overdose or an alcohol-related problem, and how to help. Signs of an alcohol overdose include slow or irregular (10 seconds or more between breaths) breathing, vomiting, mental confusion, slow heart rate, stupor, loss of consciousness or coma, and bluish or pale skin.

Help is available. If you or a loved one need assistance, please reach out to:

  • Your faith-based leader, your healthcare professional, or student health center on campus.
  • Nebraska Family Helpline – Any question, any time. (888) 866-8660
  • Rural Response Hotline, (800) 464-0258
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (oprime dos para Español) or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 para Español
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

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