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A Guide for Families: Talking With College Students About Alcohol and Other Drugs

Clemson University is committed to maintaining an environment that is healthy, safe and attractive for all members of the community. Students who choose to use alcohol and other drugs assume a responsibility to comply with South Carolina laws and University policies, to make decisions that reduce their personal risks, and to consider the health and safety risks posed to others. The University provides education, programs and policies to empower students to make responsible decisions relating to alcohol and other drug consumption. Students who choose to violate University policy related to alcohol and other drug use are subject to discipline as outlined in the student code of conduct. Where those actions also violate state and/or federal law, students are subject to legal consequences as well.

Alcohol is the most misused drug in our society, although most people do not even consider alcohol to be a drug. It only takes a single episode of intoxication to experience life-changing consequences, such as accidents, arrests or poor academic performance. College is a time when students may find themselves in situations that include high-risk behaviors. Some drugs of concern are alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana and cocaine, among others.

  • Each year, Clemson University provides learning activities for all new students on alcohol use and safety through AlcoholEdu and Aspire to Be Well.
  • Of new students at Clemson University, 33% report abstaining from alcohol use, and 24% report being nondrinkers (EVERFI 2021).
  • In a survey of Clemson University students, 29% reported tobacco use, 78% reported alcohol use and 25% reported cannabis use in the past 30 days (NCHA 2020).
  • 31% of students who used alcohol experienced one or more negative consequences due to alcohol use (NCHA 2020).

Your student is leaving home and starting their academic career at Clemson. This is a very exciting time, but it is also a time of concern for many families. Your student may be living alone for the first time and may have more autonomy to make decisions. When transitioning to the college environment, students may feel that alcohol aids in social assimilation and will make the transition easier. As a family member, you can help your student to make responsible decisions about alcohol use to reduce the risks associated with high-risk drinking.

You play an important role! Studies have shown that parents can have a significant influence on their college student’s alcohol decisions.It is important to realize that parents tend to overestimate other parents’ approval of student alcohol use. Parents are less approving than they are perceived to be. Parents should be aware that this overestimation may bias their own attitudes and behavior, which in turn affects their student’s attitudes and behavior. Parents are more likely to take an active role in parenting about alcohol when they are aware that other parents also discourage unsafe alcohol use.2

We encourage you to engage your student in conversations around alcohol and other drug use and misuse. Discuss the risk factors associated with misuse of alcohol and other drugs. Encourage your student to be aware of campus and community resources and to take preventative actions to ensure their safety.


Potential Problems

Many families underestimate the drinking activity of their college student. If you think your student might have a problem with drugs or alcohol, here are some suggestions for ways you can help: 

  • Do not ignore the problem.

  • Be calm when discussing the problem.

  • Let your student know you are concerned and are willing to help.

  • Do not make excuses or cover up for your student.

  • Do not take over your student’s responsibilities; instead provide them with the means to take responsibility.

  • Do not argue with your student if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Fall Semester – A Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking

1LaBrie, J. W., Napper, L. E. & Hummer, J. F. (2014). Normative feedback for parents of college students: Piloting a parent based intervention to correct misperceptions of students' alcohol use and other parents' approval of drinking. Addictive Behaviors, 39, 107-113. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2013.08.036

2Linkenbach, J. W., Perkins, H. W. & DeJong, W. (2003). Parents' perceptions of parenting norms: Using the social norms approach to reinforce effective parenting. In H. W. Perkins, H. W. Perkins (Eds.), The social norms approach to preventing school and college age substance abuse: A handbook for educators, counselors, and clinicians (pp. 247-258). San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass.

  • Make sure your expectations are clear. Remember, students and families can have very different perspectives about what is moderate or safe drinking. Talk about number of drinks when it comes to being responsible. (5+ drinks in one sitting is considered binge drinking for men; 4+ drinks for women).

  • Discuss with your student how easily drinking to excess can happen. Drinking games, taking shots, or using beer bongs, have the possibility of leading to alcohol poisoning.

  • Your student needs to understand that Clemson follows South Carolina State Law, and it is illegal to drink under the age of 21.

  • Some students are away from home and want to experience the freedom from parental rules and experiment with drinking. This developmental stage is quite normal. Discuss personal responsibility and decision making with regard to the new freedom that comes from living away from home.

  • First-year students are looking for new social groups. Discuss with your college student the importance of attending alcohol-free activities on campus over the weekend.

    • Click here to learn more about fun, alcohol-free activities.

  • There are a wide variety of ways for your student to get involved on campus that do not involve alcohol. Encourage your student to look for opportunities to volunteer, to participate in club sports or any of the other campus organizations.

    • Click here to see helpful information about your student’s transition to Clemson. 

  • Family history is significant. If you have a family history of alcohol or other drug misuse or suspect there is a family history, talk about this with your student.

Click here for more ideas on how to start the conversation about alcohol use with your student.

Parents - Start the Conversation

  • Other than alcohol and marijuana, prescription drugs are the next most commonly abused drugs.

  • There has been an increase in college students (1 out of 4) misusing or abusing prescription medications. Many students believe that because these medications are prescribed by a doctor they are safer than illegal drugs (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2008).

  • If your student is prescribed a medication, it is illegal to share or sell it to others. Encourage your student to not discuss their prescription information with others. In some cases, prescription sharing could result in felony charges.

  • Students who abuse these medications are more likely to combine them with alcohol. They may also crush the pills to enhance the effects, which may quickly lead to overdose or death.

  • Some college students may abuse prescription drugs in order to get high, pull an all-night study session, attempt to manage stress and/or suppress appetite.

  • Talk to your student about the legal ramifications and safety concerns that can come as a result of misusing and abusing prescription drugs.

Just as there are medical consequences to using alcohol and other drugs, there are also disciplinary consequences for certain behaviors as a Clemson student. Sanctions for alcohol or drug-related misconduct can include, but are not limited to, fines, disciplinary probation, suspension or even expulsion. However, it is important to remember that Clemson actively uses a restorative justice approach in order to shift the focus from the actions of the offender to the effects of the harm caused by those actions. Restorative justice brings individuals or group representatives that have been harmed by an offender's action together to openly discuss the harm and collectively work to make amends.

Learn More About Clemson’s Alcohol and Other Drug Policy


Medical Alcohol Amnesty Policy (MAAP)

MAAP is a key component of Clemson University’s comprehensive approach to reducing the harmful consequences caused by the excessive alcohol consumption. The purpose is to facilitate access, remove barriers to students who require medical assistance in alcohol related emergencies and provide the opportunity for caring, non-punitive interventions in response to such incidents. This policy only protects students from University repercussions, not those of local, state and federal laws.

CARE Network

The CARE Network is the means by which any member of the Clemson community can report a concern he or she might have about another member of the community for a variety of reasons. A short report is submitted online, and the student in need will be contacted to follow up.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

CAPS is the University's facility for individual and group counseling, psychological testing, outreach and consultation. It operates from a brief-therapy model and will also refer students to off-campus resources if needed.

Assessment, Choices, Training and Transitions Program (ACTT)

The ACTT program at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provides assessment, prevention, intervention and treatment services to reduce the risks associated with substance use and abuse within the Clemson University family. The ACTT program develops student awareness, knowledge and skills to increase personal and social responsibility in order to remove obstacles that prevent students from reaching their goals.

Clemson All In Recovery

An Alcoholics Anonymous-type program, Clemson All In Recovery aims to create a supportive environment for students in recovery, students who wish to live a sober lifestyle yet may not be in recovery and students supporting those in recovery. This program strives to provide fun alternatives for college students in order to create an enjoyable college experience while also strengthening students’ confidence in their choice or need to stay sober.

Healthy Campus

Healthy Campus provides group- and population-level education regarding health, wellness and safety. Programs focus on alcohol and other drugs, interpersonal violence, mental health, and other health and wellness topics. 

Local and National 

Many resources are also available in the community. View Local and National Resources