By Tamarra Kemsley

Men raising beer toastGetting your young adult ready for college means more than standardized test reviews and campus tours. With 1,825 young people ages 18-24 killed each year to due to alcohol-related injuries alone, it means taking a proactive role in educating teens on the dangers of substance misuse.1

Legal age restrictions haven’t stopped alcohol use from becoming a standard of socializing on college campuses throughout the country. This reality is reflected in the estimated 60 percent of college students who drink at least monthly, of which two-thirds admit to frequent binge drinking.1

Socially sanctioned or not, the practice has its dangers, not least of which is addiction. Research shows that the earlier a person has her first drink, the more likely she’ll abuse the substance later on.3

Adding to the dangers of underage drinking is the fact that the brain is not fully developed until well into the 20s and even early 30s.4 And while studies are still being done to determine exactly the effects of alcohol on a developing brain, current research suggests links between it and a long-term adverse affect on memory and learning.The same is true for marijuana, the second most common substance on college campuses here in the United States.6

Other substances frequently found on college campuses include party drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and hallucinogens like LSD. And then there are so-called “smart drugs” such as Ritalin and Adderall. When taken for their prescribed reasons and in their specified amounts, these drugs can be powerful tools in supporting the education of individuals with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But as research shows, misuse is rampant. All told, an estimated 20 percent of students have taken prescription stimulants for reasons or in doses outside of their clinically-sanctioned bounds.7 Doing so is not without its dangers. Side effects include increased blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature, as well as decreased sleep and appetite. This in turn can lead to malnutrition and sleep-deprivation, and at very high doses heart problems such as stroke.8 Finally, there is the threat of addiction among those who misuse chronically, with withdrawal symptoms ranging from fatigue to depression.9

Fortunately, there’s hope. Research shows that not only can guardians take an active role in educating their teens about substance use, but that many want them to.10

Hannah Nunez is a substance abuse program coordinator and counselor at Northern Arizona University. Her advice: open communication.

“I think the most important thing a parent can do is simply talk with their teen,” she told Calvary Healing Center in this exclusive interview. This is true even after a young adult starts school, at which point Nunez said guardians can “ask their teens what they’ve been up to, what they see happening on campus, and how their teen feels about it. These conversations are not meant to be interrogative or conflictual, but rather an opportunity for the teen to share with the parent what they are noticing in the new environment.”

The advice comes with a word of warning. Avoid personal “’war stories'” regarding substance misuse, as young adults may “become hyperfocused on the parents ‘turning out okay,’ and use it as justification to use in a higher risk manner.”

Conversations don’t have to dwell entirely on the negative, either. “Resiliency can take many shapes and sizes,” she said. Included in those is the ability to “tie current decisions to potential long-term impacts.”

Theodore Caputi experienced this firsthand. “My parents did not spend much time lecturing me or my brother on the health effects of drugs,” the president and founder of the non-profit Student Leader Union writes. “Instead, my mother spoke to us in terms of our goals. ‘When you’re young,’ she said, ‘all the doors of opportunity are wide open, and you can do anything you want or become anyone you want.’ But she warned, ‘Mistakes along the way, like drug and alcohol use, close some of those doors, and you’ll miss the opportunities you once had.’ Every time I was offered a drink in high school, I could hear the thud of a door slamming shut and refused.”11


2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.