Go Ahead, Have The Alcohol Talk

Alcohol consumption patterns going into college were influenced by parents

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Parents may feel like their teenagers don’t listen. But when it comes to talking to teens about dangerous drinking, parents can make a real impact.

In a recent study, researchers tested how well parent-based interventions would work to prevent problematic drinking in a group of college freshmen.

The results showed that problematic drinking during freshman year was reduced when parents talked to their kids about drinking before they started college.

"Talk to your kids about drinking."

Michael J. Cleveland, PhD, research assistant professor at the Prevention Research Center at The Pennsylvania State University, led a study that investigated the use of parent-based interventions to help teens avoid problematic drinking in the first year of college.

“Several studies indicate that the transition from high school to college is a particularly vulnerable period that is associated with increased alcohol use and risk for experiencing negative alcohol-related consequences,” said the authors.

Previous studies have shown that parent-based interventions, in which parents talk to their kids about the dangers of problem drinking, can help reduce problem drinking in the late teen years, according to the authors.

This study looked at the effects of parent-based interventions on 1,900 incoming college freshmen at a public northwestern university. The students were recruited during the summer before heading off to college for the first time.

The students were randomly split into three categories:

  1. Parent-based intervention before going to college
  2. Parent-based intervention before going to college, plus three booster sessions throughout the first semester
  3. Parent-based intervention during the fall of the first semester

The parents were given a pamphlet that outlined ways to talk to teens about how to resist peer pressure to drink and how alcohol affects the body. The pamphlets also included the university’s policy for alcohol violations, statistics about college drinking and the student code of conduct.

Before beginning the parent-based interventions, each of the students were asked about his or her drinking behavior. The students were classified into four categories:

  • Non-drinkers (low-risk)
  • Weekend light drinkers (low-risk)
  • Weekend heavy binge drinkers (high-risk)
  • Heavy drinkers (high-risk)

The researchers followed up with the students at the end of the fall semester to see if the parent-based interventions played a role in their drinking behaviors.

The results of the study showed that teens in the pre-college parent-based intervention group were less likely to engage in problematic drinking behavior during their first semester.

The authors said that 80 percent of pre-college non-drinkers and 53 percent of pre-college weekend light drinkers remained in the low-risk drinking categories at follow-up. 

They also found that the 86 percent of pre-college weekend binge drinkers and 95 percent of pre-college heavy drinkers remained in the high-risk drinking categories at follow-up.

“Parental influence can remain strong for young adults who are transitioning into college environments, even among students with relatively high peer influence to drink alcohol,” said the authors.

The authors concluded that parent-based interventions were a cost-effective tool to prevent the escalation of alcohol use during the first year of college, when there is a risk for developing high-risk drinking habits.

This study was published in April in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism supported funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 14, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013