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Letter: Talk to your college student about drug, alcohol use

The new fall semester at many post-secondary schools across the country may look different this year. Many students are returning to school for the first time in over a year. Meanwhile, there are numerous students experiencing college life for the first time.

Many students come to college already having some experience with alcohol and drugs. Managing course load, external pressure, part-time jobs and post-COVID worry can heighten stress and worsen pre-existing problems.

Research has shown that students who abstain from drug and alcohol use do so because their parents discussed drug and alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them.

Talk with students about the dangers of harmful drinking and drug use. Explain the possible legal and school penalties, overdose risks, unintentional injury, violence, unsafe sexual behavior and academic failure. Be prepared to establish an ongoing conversation, not a one-time speech. Exchange information face-to-face, but also call, email or text message. Make it the goal of the family to talk openly and honestly about drugs and alcohol.

Allow them to express their fears and concerns without interruption. Listen to them in a non-judgmental manner. When engaging in conversation or when they approach you about their drug use, always ask direct questions. Are you drinking at parties? How much are you using? What drugs are you using? How are you getting drugs?

Additionally, parents, caregivers and guardians should notice the early warning signs.

Common behaviors include drastic or gradual mood changes, academic problems, changes in friends, low energy, lack of involvement in former interests and physical or mental changes.

It is impossible to know what the new school year will bring, but success is achieved by keeping an open dialogue between parents and students. Most campuses have counseling resources that can help directly or can connect students with local support for rehabilitation. If you prefer to handle things on your own, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and can help you find local counseling specializing in substance use disorder and addiction.

Michael Leach, certified clinical medical assistant

Atco, New Jersey