The Colonial - - OPINION - Dr. Caryn Rich­field

As many high school grad­u­ates head off to col­lege in Au­gust, they will be tran­si­tion­ing to a more in­de­pen­dent life where they are re­spon­si­ble for them­selves in ways that they haven’t been be­fore. Fresh­man year can be es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing, as stu­dents of­ten will ex­per­i­ment with their “newly ac­quired adult­hood” and make de­ci­sions that aren’t al­ways in their best in­ter­ests. With the ad­just­ment of liv­ing away from home, more un­struc­tured time, as well as more aca­demic and so­cial pres­sures, many col­lege stu­dents will grav­i­tate to­ward us­ing al­co­hol in ways that aren’t healthy.

The con­se­quences of ex­ces­sive drink­ing af­fects vir­tu­ally all col­lege cam­puses and col­lege stu­dents, whether they chose to drink or not. Me­dia cov­er­age of re­cent al­co­hol-re­lated deaths among col­lege stu­dents has fo­cused the spot­light on the tragic con­se­quences that can re­sult. As the prob­lem has come into clearer fo­cus by a mul­ti­tude pre­ven­tion-ori- ented task forces in col­leges across the coun­try, we have learned that ex­ces­sive drink­ing can also lead to in­jury, as­sault, date rape, un­pro­tected sex, aca­demic prob­lems and health con­se­quences.

Re­search sug­gests that those at par­tic­u­lar risk for al­co­hol prob­lems in col­lege in­clude in­com­ing fresh­men, stu­dent- ath­letes and those in­volved in the Greek sys­tem. Per­son­al­ity fac­tors, such as im­pul­siv­ity and those with ten­den­cies to­ward sen­sa­tion­seek­ing, may con­trib­ute to an el­e­vated risk. While many stu­dents drink for so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons, such as be­ing at a party, oth­ers will drink for emo­tional rea­sons, such as cop­ing with a bad grade, a re­la­tion­ship break-up, or to self-med­i­cate an un­di­ag­nosed psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­der.

Many par­ents find it dif­fi­cult to talk about al­co­hol con­cerns with their col­legeaged stu­dent be­cause they feel that they must preach and model ab­sti­nence. How­ever, what is more re­al­is­tic is that par­ents com­mu­ni­cate the im­por­tance of drink­ing re­spon­si­bly and be­ing vig­i­lant about per­sonal safety.

Par­ents should be pre­pared to pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to their son or daugh­ter’s ex­pe­ri­ences and ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the cru­cial first six weeks on cam­pus. With a great deal of un­struc­tured time, many stu­dents ini­ti­ate heavy drink­ing dur­ing these early days of col­lege. At­tend­ing Par­ents’ Week­end and other cam­pus events open to par­ents will help to main­tain this crit­i­cal con­nec­tion, as well as main­tain­ing reg­u­lar phone con­tact. If there are spe­cific con­cerns, par­ents should ini­ti­ate a con­ver­sa­tion but ex­pect that it will be an on­go­ing di­a­logue as op­posed to a “one time” speech. Look­ing for “teach­able moments” in cur­rent news sto­ries can be a pow­er­ful way to launch these im­por­tant dis­cus­sions. If the teach­able mo­ment re­sults from the con­se­quences of your son or daugh­ter’s in­tox­i­ca­tion, don’t try and have the con­ver­sa­tion un­til they are sober and ra­tio­nal.

On­go­ing pat­terns of ex­ces­sive drink­ing are a red flag that fur­ther eval­u­a­tion and treat­ment may be nec­es­sary. Stu­dents and fam­i­lies can check out http:// re­think­ing­drink­ing. ni­aaa. nih.gov to an­swer ques­tions about al­co­hol con­sump­tion and get a barom­e­ter of how se­ri­ous the is­sue may be. Univer­sity stu­dent coun­sel­ing cen­ters are an ex­cel­lent place to seek con­sul­ta­tion, and they will re­fer a stu­dent for more spe­cial­ized help if in­di­cated.

Dr. Caryn Rich­field is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist prac­tic­ing in Ply­mouth Meet­ing. She can be reached at 610-238-4450 or at dr­crich­field@aol.com.

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