Parents’ and Family Guide to Speaking with Your Hornet About Alcohol and Other Drugs

Often parents and families have some kind of conversation with their student about alcohol or drug use prior to college, and we know that some skim through the conversation about sex as it can be slightly uncomfortable. Have no fear! We’ve compiled a guide to help you have meaningful conversations around alcohol and other drug consumption, relationships, and how to prevent sexual misconduct.

According to the Kalamazoo College Wellness Survey, conducted Spring 2023, 75% of students reported consuming alcohol at least once since the beginning of the academic year. Binge drinking (consuming 5 or more drinks in one sitting) has been consistently associated with higher incidences of unplanned sexual activity, sexual and physical assaults, injuries, and trouble with campus and local police. According to K’s Wellness survey and national data, those who identify as male were more likely to engage in binge drinking.

According to the National College Health Assessment, over 50% of college and university students have engaged in consensual sexual behaviors. A majority of survey participants indicated only having one partner within the 12 months prior to the survey administration. Nearly half of students who report engaging in vaginal sex within 30 days prior to survey administration are not using protective barriers most of the time or all the time, increasing the risk of STIs and unintended pregnancies. Talking to your student about these subjects is critical and ongoing communication is key. In this guide, we’ll cover a number of topics to help you engage in discussion with your student.


  1. Communication
  2. Low- vs. High-Risk Behaviors
  3. Talking about Alcohol or Other Drugs
  4. Resources and References


The first step in effectively talking to your student is starting the conversation. Approach is everything. For some, talking about one or all of these topics is difficult, but your willingness to talk can make your student comfortable coming to you for guidance on alcohol, other drugs, and sex. Some students show this discomfort by responding with a negative reaction. Below are some common reactions to discussion on sensitive topics and ways to respond:

Being lectured to

Often students are open to talking but want to avoid hearing a lecture about what’s right and wrong. Data shows individuals from homes where parents tend to lecture too much tend to drink more.

Response: Listen and engage in dialogue. Explore thoughts about what college will be like. Provide them with guidance and tips to stay healthy and safe.

Being seen as distrustful

Your student may interpret the request to discuss alcohol and sex as a gesture of distrust. They may feel like if you trusted them, you would trust them to make the “right” decision.

Response: Reassure them that you aren’t suspicious of them. Reinforce that you’re having these conversations with them to help and provide them with correct information.

Worries about punishment

A fear of punishment has been shown to increase the likelihood that a student will drink and experience consequences related to alcohol/drug use, due to the likelihood that they will communicate with their parent less.

Response: Appeal to a common goal of safety, assuring that conversation isn’t meant to be punishment, but to help keep them healthy as they grow older.

Already know it all

Some students believe they already know it all, so it’s not worth having a conversation. Often, they don’t actually know it all.

Response: Acknowledge that they might know some of it, but you want to make sure they are well prepared as they go off to college.

Conflict is Natural

We’re all different. Even those within the same family will have some different values and beliefs, therefore conflict is bound to happen. Use conflict as an opportunity for learning about each other rather than an argument or a debate. Avoid statements that start with “you did…” when conflict arises, as often this causes people to feel like they’re being attacked.

Know the Risks: Low- vs. High-Risk Behaviors

Best practice encourages the use of harm and risk reduction versus abstinence-only curriculum. Harm reduction is a public health strategy grounded in justice and human rights to decrease the adverse effects of different behaviors. It encourages positive change and addressing issues without bias, coercion, or discrimination. It may include education on and engagement in safer behaviors, abstinence, and meeting people “where they’re at.” Harm reduction approaches have been effective in reducing morbidity and mortality (Harm Reduction International, SAMHSA Harm Reduction, Harm Reduction.Org).

Being 21 or older.Under 21.
Follow the 0-1-2-3 method
0 is the best low-risk option. No more than 1 standard drink an hour. No more than 2 standard drinks per occasion. Never exceed 3 standard drinks per occasion.
Binge drinking (5+ drinks in a day)
Thinking about whether or not you will drink and what you will drink before the party.Pregaming, chugging, drinking games, drinking anything out of a punch bowl, garbage can, trough, hose or funnel.
Eating a complete meal before drinking.Drinking to get drunk (intoxicated).
Alternating alcohol-free drinks.Driving after drinking or riding with someone under the influence.
Having a plan; knowing how you will get home safely.Drinking too much too fast.
Making sure you and your friends have each other’s backs.Going to parties where people drink too much.
Going to a party or social event alone or where you don’t know anyone.
Not knowing what is in your glass or leaving it unattended.
Mixing alcohol with drugs (legal or illegal) or medications.

Talking About Alcohol and Other Drugs

We’re not naïve to think that parents talking with their student(s) about alcohol/other drug use will put an end to all alcohol and other drug consumption in college, but a conversation with you can help limit the risks.

Conversation Goals:

  1. Explain how alcohol affects physical and mental health.
  2. Explain why people decide to or not to drink, and consequences that can result from consuming.
  3. Make clear what’s okay and what isn’t, regarding your student’s drinking.
  4. Identify constructive alternatives to alcohol consumption.

1.     How Alcohol Impacts the Body

Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach and broken down by the liver. Until the liver has had time to process, the alcohol continues in the bloodstream, affecting the body’s organs (including the brain). The amount of alcohol in the bloodstream is measured in terms of blood alcohol content (BAC). Some think the impact on BAC of additional drinks is less after more has been consumed; however, each additional drink adds the same amount of alcohol to the blood.

Some individuals may use alcohol to self-medicate for stress or mental illnesses, which can lead to a substance dependence. Alcohol or other drug use can worsen mental health after the calm feeling from substances fades. For those taking medication like antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, consuming alcohol can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

2.     The Choice to Drink or Not

Why Students Choose Not to Drink

Underage Drinking is Illegal and Against College Policy

There’s a general understanding that consuming alcohol before the age of 21 is illegal; however, some have the perception that you won’t get caught by authorities and suffer consequences. Focus on the many ways a person can be caught, as it allows for a useful dialogue. Drinking often leads to public disturbances and calls to authorities. Consequences can include costs in legal fees/fines, required educational classes, suspension of driver’s license, community service, etc.

Drinking can Lead to Accidental Death or Injury

Alcohol affects the frontal lobe, impairing decision-making and judgement, potentially leading to deciding to drive under the influence or participate in activities they wouldn’t have sober. If too much is consumed, a person will vomit. It also impairs motor skills leading to tripping, falling, drownings, and burns (Chikritzhs & Livingston, 2021).

Why Students Drink

Celebrations and Entertainment

Some students believe consuming alcohol is the best way to celebrate a special occasion or the only thing to do around Kalamazoo. Brainstorm some other ways to celebrate events like purchasing something new, or having a get-together with their friends, and some alternatives to consuming alcohol, like getting involved in sports, music, games, etc. Encourage them to share their successes with you, so you can celebrate with them.

To Fit in or Peer Pressure

Your student may feel pressured to drink directly (i.e., someone handing them a drink), or indirectly (i.e., a desire to be part of a group that happens to experiment with alcohol/drugs). Often, students share post-party stories about who drank the most, and who has the worst hangover. Some students identify these as badges of honor; however, data reveals that high-risk behaviors are associated with accidents, sexual violence, unsafe sex, trouble with law enforcement, and negative academic performance. Though you can’t choose your student’s friends, you can help them understand the dynamics of peer pressure and prepare them for these situations.

Stress Relief and Helps Mood

Many students believe that alcohol or other drugs will help them improve their mood and relieve stress. As you know, it’s normal to feel sad and stressed at times. It’s important to explain to your student that the “high” from alcohol is often accompanied by extreme lows. You can help them identify and confront issues they face in ways that don’t include substances.

Heightens Sexuality

Some students believe that consuming alcohol or other drugs adds to sexual experiences, but it actually reduces performance in sexual activities. Alcohol impairs judgement, and may lead students to engage in behaviors they later regret (i.e., going further than they would have sober). Data
indicates that students are more likely to engage in unprotected sex if they’ve been drinking, thereby increasing the chances of an unintended pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease.

3.     Your position

We’re sure you love your student and can’t wait to see them grow and change into the person they’re about to become. A critical piece to growing is finding support and guidance from loved ones. Your position on substance use, whatever it may be, is important to make clear in your discussion with your student. Give some clear guidance and avoid only saying “Be responsible” or “Be safe.” What does be “responsible” mean? If you are operating on an assumption that your student is going to drink, provide some protective behaviors: stick to one drink an hour, make sure to eat before and while consuming alcohol, stick with a group of friends (find more at Protective Factors).  

4.     Ideas for Alternatives to Alcohol Consumption

  • Attend an Athletic event
  • Go bowling
  • Hike at Kalamazoo Valley Trails
  • Join a Student Organization
  • Go to a concert
  • Attend a play or an improv show
  • Attend a Residence Hall program
  • Go climbing
  • Join Student Activities for a weekend event
  • And more!


Kalamazoo College Counseling Center

Counseling Center Website

Hours: Mon-Fri 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Kalamazoo College Student Health Center

Student Health Center Website

Hours: Mon-Fri 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m. & 1:30–4 p.m.

Kalamazoo College Campus Safety


Kalamazoo College Office of Gender Equity/Title IX

Office of Gender Equity and Access

Director of Gender Equity/Title IX Coordinator

Alcohol and Other Drugs


YWCA Kalamazoo

On-Campus Advocate, Mya White

Crisis Hotline: 269.385.3587

Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety


Non-Emergency: 269.488.8911

Gryphon Place


269.381.1510 or 988 (24/7 crisis line)


American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment III: Undergraduate Student Reference Group Executive Summary Fall 2022. Silver Spring, MD: American College Health Association; 2023.

Chikritzhs, & Livingston, M. (2021). Alcohol and the Risk of Injury. Nutrients, 13(8), 2777–.

Harm Reduction International

SAMHSA Harm Reduction