Talking With Your College Student Can Decrease Their Alcohol Consumption

by Sheela Doraiswamy on October 29, 2012


As anyone who has been to college can attest, drinking can be a huge problem among students.  “Binge drinking” is defined as consuming 4 or more drinks on the same occasion, on at least one day in the past month. College administrations and parents alike are concerned about the health and academic impacts of this behavior, as previous studies have found that students who drink large amounts of alcohol are more likely to have low GPAs, be involved in an alcohol related injury, and take part in unplanned sexual activity.

The question of course, is “what can be done to prevent binge drinking?” If you’re a parent of a college student, part of the answer could be communicating with your child regularly, according to a study published in the Journal of American College Health .

The study looked at the effects of parent/student communication on drinking behavior, estimated blood alcohol concentration, and perceived negative consequences of drinking. 746 students were given a survey every day for two weeks, asking questions referring to 1) How many minutes they had communicated (meaning talked, emailed, or texted)  their parents the previous day, 2) Approximately how much alcohol they consumed the previous day (this was used to estimate blood alcohol concentration), 3) How much time was spent drinking, and 4) Consequences of binge drinking.

The researchers were especially interested in looking at communication on weekends (Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays), when the risk for heavy drinking among students increases. The study found that, compared to days that they hadn’t spoken with their parents, students consumed fewer drinks, had lower estimated blood alcohol concentrations,  and were less likely to engage in binge drinking on days that they had communicated with their parents for more than 30 minutes. There was however, no effect on the students’ perceived negative consequences of alcohol consumption.

This is of course, not a total solution to the problem of binge drinking, but these results could be useful for college administrators and university health services, who could use this information to build health promotion programs that involve parent communication. What’s particularly interesting is that they did not look specifically at whether parents were talking to their kids about alcohol consumption, it only asked how long students had communicated with parents that day. Perhaps more research can and should be done to find out whether intentionally bringing up alcohol in conversation with the student will have any added effect on these results.

For now, if you’re a parent of a college student, this could be a good excuse to talk with your kids a bit longer on weekends!


Ella October 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Do you think this is a causal effect, though? I could think of a couple conflating variables…students who talk to their parents more are less likely to drink in general, more conservative or religious, etc., students talk to their parents on days they already were not planning on going out, students want to get off the phone faster if they have plans to drink, etc. What are your thoughts?

Sheela Doraiswamy October 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm

hi Ella, thanks for the comment. Those are definitely some interesting points. Regarding the first one, “students who talk to their parents more are less likely to drink,” for that one at least, the study looked at within-person variations, and found that a particular student would be more likely to drink on days that they didn’t talk with their parents, so I don’t think this would be a huge factor. The other things you mentioned are valid concerns, and were actually mentioned in the limitations in the original paper.

LeBiochimiste October 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Interesting article. The subject is definitely important. After reading, you left me still hungry to learn about the subject (great – you made the subject interesting) but a few more references on other related studies would have improved it, and opened it up nicely.

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