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Parenting college students: How common are drugs and alcohol?

Over the next several months, thousands of parents in Maryland will be preparing to send their children off to college for the very first time. This is no doubt an exciting time, as teens continue their journey into adulthood, only now with less -- and in some cases no -- parental supervision. In just a few short months, these same teens who you were once waking up for high school will now be in charge of getting themselves to class and making the right decisions, day in and day out, without you.

It is normal for any parent to wonder about not only school decisions, but also life decisions. Will my son experiment with drugs? How much alcohol will my daughter drink? Will they fall in with the right crowd, or the wrong one? These are all common worries to have as you think about your child going to college this fall.

How common is drinking in college?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration put out a report that focuses on the day in the life of college students, ages 18 to 22. In this, the report looks at both full-time and part-time students and the prevalence of drinking and drug use. The data was a combination of multiple years of estimates based on college survey responses.

Here are a few of the key findings:

  • Close to 10 percent of students drank alcohol for the first time in college.
  • Another 6 percent of students used illicit drugs for the first time in college.
  • Alcohol and marijuana were the most common among college students.

It probably comes as no surprise that many college students report trying and using alcohol and marijuana. However, some students did report trying other drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, but this type of use was just not as common as alcohol and marijuana.

What can a parent even do?

This is where it does become tricky. While your 18 or 19-year-old is still very much testing the waters in terms of adulthood, the law does not look at them the same way you do. While you may be thinking that some level of experimentation is normal, law enforcement may still be ready to bring down the book when it comes to criminal charges. They will not necessarily take your child’s age or recent transition into college into consideration.

This becomes a double-edged sword. Not only are criminal charges stressful for you and your child now, but there is also the potential for a damaging criminal record that can continue to haunt your child well after college. This is why parents and teens are highly encouraged to explore all their options after an arrest and never just plead guilty.

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