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Information for Families

Talking To Your Student About Alcohol Use

Why Talk To Your Student About Alcohol?

Surprisingly, 85% of parents underestimate their own student’s alcohol use.  70% of parents underestimate how acceptable their own student believes it is to engage in various drinking behaviors. 7 out of 10 college students who attend college will begin to drink alcohol regularly. New students are most likely to initiate or increase alcohol use during their first six weeks of college.

Infographic about national college alcohol use based on NIAAA data

A Conversation Can Be Impactful

The consequences of excessive drinking by college students are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many parents realize. Many people believe that alcohol use is an unavoidable part of a college experience. For that reason, parents often do not talk to students about alcohol use, falsely believing that a conversation about alcohol use will not make a difference.

In fact, research shows that parents who talk to their students about alcohol avoidance strategies before college were more likely to avoid alcohol use, have lower rates of use and spend less time with heavy-drinking peers.  Parents are still one of the most likely people for students to consult when facing a problem.

Recommendations for Talking With Your Student About Alcohol and Substance Use:

Make a Statement

It is encouraged that parents make a clear stance on what they are comfortable with regarding alcohol use and what they consider unacceptable.  Research shows that less permissive attitudes regarding alcohol use lead to less consumption of alcohol by the student. A zero-tolerance stance is has been shown to be the most effective.

Policies at Syracuse University

Discuss the school’s policies on alcohol and other drug violations- AOD policies can be reviewed here.  Consequences can include removal of academic scholarships, inability to join Greek Life organizations, inability to study abroad and other sanctions. Parents and students can review consequences in the Sanctions section of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities website.

How Alcohol Use Impacts Personal Values

Have your student discuss their values and how alcohol use may impact them.  Academic success, social life, activities, and various character traits are all examples of values. Perhaps a student really values making friends. It is important to discuss how alcohol or drug use can impact this common value. What are other ways students might make new friends without alcohol or drug use?

Practice Responses for Tough Situations

Research shows that it is helpful for students to rehearse how they might decline using alcohol  or certain drinking behaviors. These “rehearsals” can help with lowered alcohol use in the future.  Have students distinguish between situations they are and are not ok with.  Encourage them to identify how they might react in situations where there is pressure to do something they are not comfortable with. This can help students establish boundaries and comfort level before they get in certain situations.


Identify facts from opinions. Make sure that facts are clearly stated and be ready to look them up with your student. If you are providing an opinion, state so.  Be prepared for students to ask about your alcohol use at their age and how you would like to handle these kinds of questions.  Honesty is encouraged.

Alternatives to Substance Use

Encourage constructive alternatives to substance use activities and demonstrate willingness to help students find those activities. Syracuse University has a program called Orange After Dark that hosts fun, low cost, substance free, activities for students, even if your student decides to go out, they do not need to go out every weekend, there are many other activities on and off campus that they can get involved with. These activities start at 10:00pm or later every Friday and Saturday of the academic year.  

Support Your Student

We recommend you invite your student to talk to you in the event they have concerns. These concerns can be about substance use, stress management, relationships or other mental health concerns as well. Usually if someone has a problem with a substance, they are experiencing a problem with other aspects of their lives. Normalizing these topics can make conversations more approachable.  A student may be more likely to seek help if they have a problem in the future. We also recommend that you encourage your student to utilize campus resources for extra support.  Contact information for these resources are listed below and include the Counseling Center and Student Assistance.


Help educate your student on the physical effects of alcohol.  In addition to this, strategies for safer alcohol use and how to help someone who is experiencing signs of alcohol poisoning are available on our BeWise Website.


On campus resources at Syracuse University:

Counseling Center

200 Walnut Place



Student Assistance

307 Steele Hall



Other resources on college substance use: