Preparing For College

Hard to believe, but your teen will be heading off to college soon. There’s plenty to do to prepare—essays to write, applications to file, academic programs to evaluate, and finances to arrange. You and your teen may also be planning trips to visit colleges under consideration.

As you evaluate each prospective school, look at whether the college actively works to combat underage drinking and alcohol abuse. It’s important: A riskier campus environment will jeopardize your son or daughter’s academic success and personal safety.18

During Campus Visits2,6

  • Question resident advisors to see if they’ve been trained to limit student drinking. Watch for trash cans full of empty beer bottles in the dorms. Inquire whether the school offers “alcohol-free” residence halls.
  • Find out how the school prevents underage drinking at school sporting events. Check how extensively alcohol companies sponsors school activities, and whether alcohol is heavily advertised on campus.
  • Ask if campus health clinics routinely screen for alcohol abuse, and about the types of treatments they offer.
  • Learn the percentage of students who join fraternities and sororities. Check whether Greek party-goers routinely get ID’d, and how the groups work to curb alcohol abuse.

Consider choosing a college that prioritizes alcohol safety.
TIP: Search online for an individual school’s alcohol policy.

At Home2,10,17

  • Talk together about the danger of college drinking. Alert teens that their risk increases if they join a fraternity, sorority, or sports team.
  • Explain how blood alcohol content works, and why alcohol poisoning can be lethal. Point out that alcohol hidden in jello shots, frozen popsicles, or party punch is still harmful.
  • Warn young women that they’re more vulnerable to sexual assault when they’re drinking.
  • Emphasize the importance of waiting until the legal age of 21 to drink alcohol.

Talk to your teen about alcohol before he or she leaves for college.
TIP: Make these discussions easier with help from the MADD Parent Handbook.10

After Admission7
Contact college administrators and urge them to prevent student alcohol abuse by: screening and counseling at-risk students; publicizing enforcement efforts, tightening controls on fraternity and sorority parties; and partnering with the community.

When parents speak up, college administrators listen.
TIP: Some policies work better than others to curb college drinking.


1. Grucza, RA, Norberg, KE, Bierut, LJ. “Binge Drinking Among Youths and Young Adults in the United States: 1979-2006” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, July 2009, 48:7 pp 692-702 Read more

2. Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, U.S. Department of Education. “Alcohol, Other Drugs, and College: A Parent’s Guide” Read more

3. Hingson, Ralph W., Zha, Wenxing, Weitzman, Elissa R. “Magnitude of and Trends in Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity Among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24, 1998-2005” J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, Supplement No. 16: 12-20, 2009 Read more

4. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, July 2009, “Cell Phone Laws” Read more

5. Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, Schulenberg JE. Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975–2007. Volume I: Secondary School Students (NIH Publication No. 08–6418A). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2008, p. 26.

6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, College Drinking - Changing the Culture website. “Choosing the Right College” Read more

7. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, College Drinking - Changing the Culture website. “College Alcohol Policies” Read more

8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism “What Colleges Need to Know Now: An Update on College Drinking Research” (2007) Read more

9. National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Read more

10. Prevention Research Center, The Pennsylvania State University. (2005) Parents as a Resource: Talking with Adolescents About Alcohol.

11. Resnick, Michael D, et al. “Protecting Adolescents From Harm: Findings From the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health,” JAMA, September 10, 1997. Vol 278, No. 10. Read more

12. Strayer, David L. and Johnston, William A. “Driven to Distraction: Dual-Task Studies of Simulated Driving and Conversing on a Cellular Telephone” Psychological Science Vol. 12, No. 6, Nov. 2001 Read more

13. Strayer, DL, Drews, FA, Crouch DJ. “A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver.” Human Factors, Vol. 48, No. 2, Summer 2006, pp. 381–391 Read more

14. Timberlake, D.S.; Hopfer, S.H.R.; Friedman, B.C.; et al. “College attendance and its effects on drinking behaviors in a longitudinal study of adolescents.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 31(6):1020–1030, 2007.

15. Turrisi R, Mallett KA, Mastroleo NR, Larimer ME. “Heavy drinking in college students: who is at risk and what is being done about it?” J Gen Psychol. 2006 Oct;133(4):401-20.

16. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking 2007. Read more

17. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol.” Read more

18. White AM, Kraus CL, Swartzwelder H. “Many college freshmen drink at levels far beyond the binge threshold.” Alcohol: Clin Exp Res 30(6):1006–1010, 2006.