It is highly likely that in the course of your discussions with your student, you will be asked if you ever drank as a student.

GT students on campus during FASET.

The fact is that most parents did drink in their youth, which creates a dilemma. If you answer no, then you are not being honest with them. If you answer yes, then you are being hypocritical. At the same time you are telling your student not to drink, you admit that you did. You are, in an indirect way saying it is permissible to drink because you did it. And if you drank as a student, how can you turn around and punish them for drinking? How should you answer questions about your own drinking as a student?

We believe that honesty is important and that you should not lie to your student. Ultimately, this can undermine effective communication. Some parents establish a “ground rule” at the start of their discussion: They will talk about anything but will not answer questions about their own use of drugs or alcohol as a student. The parent tells the student that this rule does not mean that the parent drank alcohol as a teenager nor does it mean that the parent did not. Rather, the parent’s behavior as a student is not relevant to a careful consideration of the issues surrounding the student’s current use of alcohol. This strategy works well in some families but not others.

Students may be convinced that their parents are hiding something and resent the fact that the parent won’t talk about it. How can the parent expect the student to talk about their behavior when the parent refuses to talk about the parent’s behavior as a student?

While this strategy may work for some families, it may prove to be ineffective for others. An alternative approach is to admit use, but to state in unambiguous terms that it was a mistake. Use your experiences as an opportunity to discuss some of the negative things that happened. Relate how drinking led to an embarrassing moment or an unpleasant consequence for the parent, making salient the fact that drinking has negative consequences that the parent has personally experienced. Stress that just because the parent behaved foolishly and was lucky enough to escape serious consequences does not mean that the same fortune will befall the student.

Unfortunately, there is no good scientific data about how best to handle this issue and psychologists are divided on what they recommend. You should use your own judgment about what you think will work best given your own past and your knowledge of your student.


Most parents underestimate the drinking activity of their student. If you think they may have a drinking problem, here are some suggestions for ways in which you can help:

  • Do not turn your back on the problem.
  • Be calm when discussing the problem.
  • Let them know that you are concerned and are willing to help.
  • Do not make excuses or cover up for them.
  • Do not take over your student’s responsibilities but provide them with the means to take responsibility for themselves.
  • Do not argue with your student if they are drunk.
  • If your child stays out late, stay awake for them when possible, to show you care and are interested in what they are doing.



Even if your student never drinks, they may be faced with a situation where a decision must be made whether or not to ride with someone who has been drinking. This is just as dangerous as driving drunk. As a rule your student should not get into a car with someone who has been drinking and should be knowledgeable about effective alternatives (e.g., calling a taxi, asking someone else for a ride home). You should develop an explicit agreement with your student that they never ride home with someone who has been drinking. Again, it is almost impossible to judge how drunk or sober someone is once the person has been drinking, so it is best not to ride with someone regardless of the number of drinks that person has had or how sober the person seems to be. The student should be aware that the techniques for “sobering up” (e.g., drinking coffee) do not work (see our earlier discussion) and that they should not rely on these to make a friend a “safe and sober” driver. Make sure your they always have enough money for a taxi ride or for public transportation. Encourage them to ride with other non-drinking friends or call home.


Your student may also be faced with a situation where their best friend has been drinking and intends to drive. In these cases, they should try to stop their friend from driving. Many students are reluctant to do so because they feel that it might prove to be embarrassing or that an argument might ensue, or even a physical confrontation. Our research suggests that less resistance will result if:

  • Students do not try to take their friends’ keys away
  • Students try to arrange for a friend to drive
  • Students arrange for their friend to stay over
  • Students try to reason with their friend


Talking to your student about alcohol use is also a good time to have a conversation about sexual assault. Over half of all college sexual assaults involve alcohol and alcohol is the number one drug used to facilitate sexual assault. Perpetrators use alcohol as a weapon to incapacitate potential victims and intentionally target people who have been using alcohol. We often teach our student to avoid strangers in alleys, however 85% of all assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Talk to your student about consent. Make sure to emphasize that consent must be asked for and received before sexual activity occurs and consent is not valid if someone is intoxicated or incapacitated by alcohol and/or drugs.