An Important Talk About Life, Death and the Responsibility of Friendship

We're still in the earliest weeks of the fall semester, during which new students are most acutely at risk for alcohol-related injury, death and other incidents. Though physically distant, parents remain the biggest role models in their students' lives.
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It's that time of year again. Students are back in class, off-campus house parties are being held adjacent to university property and tailgating before Saturday football games across the country is considered a must-attend social event. It's also when colleges and universities welcome parents and siblings to campus for Family Weekend festivities -- and from my perspective the timing couldn't be better.

We're still in the earliest weeks of the fall semester, during which new students are most acutely at risk for alcohol-related injury, death and other incidents. Freed from parental supervision for the first time, freshmen are immersed in an environment where alcohol is all-too-frequently available. Still, though physically distant, parents remain the biggest role models in their students' lives and have a special responsibility to join educators in keeping students safe.

In addition to taking to your son or daughter out for a meal and helping them catch up on their laundry when visiting for parents' weekend, I ask all parents to sit their child down for an important conversation about alcohol use and abuse and the responsibilities their son or daughter has to look out for their friends if or when they drink.

The celebration of college life is quite often paired with an alcoholic beverage or two. While not condoning underage drinking, I am realistic in knowing that the majority of students drink whether they are of legal drinking age or not. I have devoted my career to preventing students from engaging in high-risk drinking behavior, and specifically from drinking themselves to death. And that is a place where I can use parents' help.

This past year I was one of the strongest advocates for the State of Maryland state legislature's successful ban on grain alcohol. I wasn't surprised to receive significant feedback, pro and con, from others around the state on my advocacy for the ban. But, much to my surprise, I received the strongest negative feedback from parents and Frostburg State alumni. I heard their nostalgic stories of having fun and learning their limits when they were in college and wanting their children to have those same experiences. Some students are having that experience, but 1,825 of our college-aged sons and daughters are dying each year related to excessive use of alcohol.

The fun days we fondly remember don't necessarily exist today. The strength (proof) of alcohol has increased, the price has decreased and the goals of drinking for some have shifted from socialization to purposely intending to get drunk. At only $0.40 per shot, a number of students' alcohol-related hospitalizations are related to their consumption of cheap, odorless grain alcohol or binge drinking alcoholic beverages of choice.

The reality of alcohol consumption and abuse on college campuses is startling. About four out of five college students drink alcohol, and about half of college students who drink, also consume alcohol through binge drinking, which is defined as drinking five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion.

But we can partner on a solution.

When you head to campus for Family Weekend, sit your child down and talk to them about binge drinking. Remind them to stop drinking before they reach impairment and encourage their friends to do the same. Talk to them about arranging rides for safe transport, discuss how to remove friends from dangerous situations, and review the necessity of using the buddy system when they party with friends.

It's an antiquated term these days, but the buddy system is still essential. Having a sober friend look out for a larger group or even a pairing of friends looking out for each other can make the difference between responsible drinking and students who face alcohol poisoning or worse.

Share the following signs of alcohol poisoning with your child and remind them of their responsibility to call an ambulance if these signs are met. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness

In the end, alcohol consumption is a problem that can be successfully addressed on college campuses across the country. We've had tremendous success reducing the rate of binge drinking at Frostburg State University. But, to meet our next milestones we need a buddy system of our own. And parents, we're looking to you to have our back.

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