Drug And Alcohol Intervention For College Students
By the time our sons and daughters have gone off to college, we may think that they’ve entered an exciting new chapter of their lives. While it is true that the college years can be full of discovery, meeting new people, learning new things, and broadening perspective on life and living, college also brings with it many temptations and opportunities to go overboard with alcohol and drugs.
In fact, binge drinking is a serious problem on college campuses across America. It’s also something that your own son or daughter may be involved in, whether you want to admit it or not.
How can you deal with the reality of binge drinking, casual or chronic drug use when it comes your offspring? Better yet, what can or should you do about it? Here we take a look at some important things every parent of a college-age son or daughter need to know.
College Students Drink, But Not All Drink to Excess
First of all, let’s be clear about one thing: not every college student drinks, or, if he or she does, it’s not to excess. But there is no denying that drinking and drug use are rampant across college campuses.
Parents also may have a lot of misinformation and misperception about what’s really going on with their son or daughter. What we may consider to be “normal” drinking may or may not be appropriate in the context of our sons and daughters away at school, or even living at home and going to college.
When we’re able to separate the myths from reality, we have a better likelihood of being able to construct meaningful conversations with our offspring about drinking and, if necessary, arrange for an intervention to get help for their out-of-control abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
Drinking Problems: Depend on How Much and How Frequent
If someone drinks only occasionally and doesn’t overdo it, it is likely that he or she does not have a problem with alcohol. The same may or may not hold true for drug use, since there are certain drugs that, alone or taken in combination with alcohol, can prove deadly with a single episode.
Frequency of alcohol intake is one measure of drinking. If your son or daughter drinks every day, there may be a problem.
Quantity of alcohol consumed is another measure. If your son or daughter frequently binges, that is consumes five or more drinks in a row in a short period of time, there is clearly a problem with alcohol.
In short, frequency of binge drinking episodes is a fairly accurate indicator of risky drinking behavior among college students.
Heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking on at least five days in the past 30 days.
Statistics Tell Some of the Story
Looking at statistics, it’s possible to get a better picture of the rate of drinking and drug use among college students. But statistics, while they are informative, only tell part of the story. What happens with your own son or daughter may or may not be reflective of the overall statistics.
The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) (http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2k10Results/Web/PDFW/2k10Results.pdf), from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that alcohol abuse and dependence among those aged 18 to 25 is actually decreasing, from 17.7 percent in 2002 to 17.2 percent in 2008 and 16.0 percent in 2009.
But among college students, young adults aged 18 to 22 who were enrolled full-time were more likely than their peers not enrolled full-time to use alcohol in the past month, binge drink, and drink heavily. The 2010 statistics are particularly frightening. In 2010, among full-time college students, 63.3 percent were current drinkers, 42.2 percent were binge drinkers, and 15.6 percent were heavy drinkers. The pattern of higher rates of current alcohol use, binge alcohol use, and heavy alcohol use among full-time college students compared with rates for others aged 18 to 22 has remained consistent since 2002.
On the other hand, the current use of illicit drugs by young adults aged 18 to 25 increased from 19.6 percent in 2008 to 21.2 percent in 2009 and 21.5 percent in 2010, driven largely by an increase in marijuana use (from 16.5 percent in 2008 to 18.1 percent in 2009 and 18.5 percent in 2010). Marijuana remains the overarching illicit drug of choice.
Other illicit substances and prescription-type drugs misused and abused by young adults include pain relievers and cocaine. From 2009 to 2010, there was a decrease in the nonmedical use of prescription-type drugs by young adults aged 18 to 25 (from 6.3 to 5.9 percent). Cocaine use rates from 2009 and 2010 were similar, from 1.4 to 1.5 percent. Methamphetamine use rates were the same for 2009 and 2010, at 0.2 percent.
Looking at college students in particular, among those aged 18 to 22, the rate of current use of illicit drugs in 2010 among full-time college students (22.0 percent) was similar to the rate of others in that age group (23.5 percent), which includes part-time college students, students in other grades or types of institutions, and nonstudents.
Among full-time college students, marijuana usage increased from 2008 to 2009 (from 17.9 to 20.2 percent). In addition, current nonmedical use of psychotherapeutic drugs overall decreased to 5.0 percent in 2010, similar to the 5.2 percent in 2009, but down from 6.3 percent in 2008.
What to Look For: Danger Signs
Suppose you think you know your college-age son or daughter so well that you believe there is nothing to worry about. Then, when your child comes home for a holiday visit, you see signs that things have changed. It may be that the differences are just subtle, and you may tend to dismiss them as indications your child is growing up or distancing himself or herself from parental influence.
You may be making a big mistake.
Here are some danger signs to be on the lookout for, any one of which may spell a risk for drug and/or alcohol abuse that could require an intervention.
- Poor grades or school performance
- Irritability, sudden and/or unexplained
- Strained relationship with parents, siblings and non-college friends
- Financial difficulties
- Developing a high tolerance for alcohol, which leads to an increased need to drink more
- Developing a preoccupation for obtaining alcohol
- Withdrawing from some social and school activities in order to go out partying or to the bars more
- Getting involved in an accident while drinking
- Getting arrested for DWI or DUI
- Sudden or unexpected weight loss
- Redness of nose or cheeks
- Withdrawal symptoms when stopping drinking, including sweating, anxiety, shakes, nausea
- Blacking out or not remembering what happened while drinking
- Drinking in the morning
- Smell of alcohol on the breath
- Red eyes
- Change in appearance
For more information on the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependence, check out the Web MD site.
Will an Intervention Help?
Now, let’s say that you’ve noticed several signs that have you worried. What should you do? Will an intervention help? Is there time to get one going? Are you afraid you’ll risk antagonizing your son or daughter if you do arrange for an intervention?
Put this all in perspective. If your son or daughter began drinking before the age of 15, he or she is already engaged in a pattern of risky behavior that, without treatment, will likely result in alcohol dependence or addiction – if it hasn’t come to that already. Similarly, alcohol dependence and addiction frequently go hand-in-hand with other types of substance abuse, both illicit and the misuse of prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes.
The only way you’ll help your son or daughter to get off this vicious cycle of using, coming down, and using again is to encourage your child to get help to overcome the problem.
But most college-age young adults resent the heck out of anyone, especially their parents, trying to tell them they need help. They’ll deny that there’s any sort of a problem with drugs or alcohol, despite mounting negative consequences and obvious signs that there is something wrong.
So just having a discussion with your son or daughter about their drinking and/or drug use may not produce the desired effect. Your child may tell you whatever he or she thinks you want to hear and just as soon as they’re out the door and back at school, they’ll just resume their self-destructive pattern of behavior.
Of course, if your child has gotten into a serious scrape with the law or been kicked out of school for one reason or another, you’ll really have no choice but to deal with it.
Either way, whether you suspect a problem with alcohol or drug use, but your son or daughter denies it, or you know there is a problem and your child refuses to get help, you may wish to consider a professional intervention for your college student.
Intervention: What Is It and How Do You Go About Arranging One?
An intervention is a process by which change is introduced into people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Interventions can be formal or informal, but they have one primary objective: to get the person to listen and accept help. The overall objective is to begin to relieve the suffering caused by the individual’s self-destructive behavior.
In a formal intervention, several people, including family members, loved ones and friends, led by a professional interventionist, get together to approach a person involved in self-destructive behavior, like out-of-control drug and/or alcohol abuse or dependence, and talk to them in a clear and respectful way about the behavior in question. There’s more to it, of course, but the bottom line is that the goal is to get the individual to admit to a problem with substance abuse and to agree to accept help to learn how to overcome it.
Many people are uncertain how to go about finding an interventionist. That’s not anything to be ashamed of. We only tend to find out about such things when we really need them.
You could start with the family doctor and ask for a recommendation. Maybe you know the parents of another college student who went through an intervention prior to going into treatment. If that worked out well, you might explore working with that interventionist or at least giving the individual a call to ask the kinds of questions you naturally have.
Treatment centers are another logical first step, since they may be able to provide counselors to help with an intervention. There are also third-party professional interventionists for hire. These are people who have been thoroughly trained in how to do an intervention.
Always be sure to check out the professional interventionist or intervention service. You want an interventionist with exceptional credentials, sterling references and a great deal of experience, specifically with doing interventions for college students. Check out the Association of Intervention Specialists to find a professional interventionist, all of whom are board registered interventionists and adhere to the AIS Code of Ethics.
Why not do the intervention yourself? For one thing, unless you’re a professional drug and alcohol interventionist, you aren’t properly equipped to handle the emotional aspects of the intervention. You may be swayed by tears and angry outbursts, feel a sense of shame or guilt about confronting your college-age son or daughter. Worst of all, you may back down and allow your son or daughter to continue behaving as before.
With a professional interventionist present, however, you can be assured that the meeting will take place according to evidence-based procedures. There will be a pre-meeting for family members and possibly close friends where everyone meets with the interventionist to go over what will take place during the actual intervention.
During the intervention itself, the interventionist’s sole purpose is to get your son or daughter to acknowledge that his or her abuse is a problem and to accept and be willing to go into treatment. During the meeting, family members and close friends read aloud statements that they have prepared ahead of time, telling your son or daughter how his or her drug or alcohol abuse has impacted them, that they are here out of love for the individual and only want him or her to get the treatment they need.
It’s also critically important that your college student son or daughter realize that there will be no more enabling of the drug or alcohol abuse by family members. Excuses will no longer be tolerated and there will be no further support unless and until the individual accepts treatment.
Once your college-age child agrees to go into treatment, the intervention is over. Arrangements for admission to a drug or alcohol rehab facility should already have been made and the interventionist often accompanies the individual directly to the facility. There’s no downtime, no delay to give your son or daughter an opportunity to back out. This is striking while the iron is hot, so to speak.
Prognosis for Recovery
Look upon the professional intervention as an important part of the healing process from drug or alcohol addiction.
Of course, one time in rehab for drug or alcohol abuse may not be sufficient to overcome chronic addiction. Your college-age son or daughter may relapse, requiring further counseling or treatment one or more times in a rehab facility or private counseling. This does not mean the original rehab was a failure. It only means that there may be more time required for your child to understand the disease of addiction, learn more about how to recognize triggers and learn and practice coping strategies for dealing effectively with cravings and urges.
Participation in 12-Step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or other self-help groups is also strongly encouraged following completion of drug and alcohol rehab.
With continued support and encouragement from family and peer support groups, your college-age son or daughter will have a much better chance of maintaining sobriety and living a more fulfilling life. Don’t shortchange your child who may be in trouble with drugs and/or alcohol. The time to act is now if you believe there is, indeed, a problem. It is undoubtedly the most loving thing you can do to get your college-age child off drugs and alcohol and on the way to a happy and drug-free life.