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Discussing Alcohol with Your Student

College is a time for your student to explore their identity, gain new experiences, build new friendships, and make new memories that will last a lifetime. As you prepare them for this transition, there are a lot of good reasons to have conversations about alcohol. Some reasons includes:

  • The odds are high that your student has already faced a decision about drinking.
  • When students arrive at UT, the pressure to misuse alcohol may be intensified as parents are less present, students begin interacting with new peers, and the need to fit in grows more important.
  • Binge drinking becomes a stronger concern in the college and young adult years. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the consequences of binge drinking are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many parents may realize.
  • Students who do not drink can experience consequences from other students’ drinking.
  • Even after your student has moved into a residence hall, you remain the single most influential relationship in their life.

We need your active partnership in influencing your student’s decisions about alcohol. This webpage can help you develop a plan and consider information and resources to have meaningful discussions about alcohol with your student.

54% of 12th graders reported using alcohol in their lifetime, and 26% percent of those high school student have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, Monitoring the Future 2021

Step 1: Create a Plan

As you plan the conversation with your student about drinking, it is important to incorporate three elements: a summary of relevant facts about alcohol, your family’s history of alcohol use, and the expectations you have for your student while they are away at college.

Important Elements of Conversation

The use or possession of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21 is illegal, and consuming, manufacturing, possessing, distributing, dispensing, selling, or being under the influence of alcoholic beverages is a violation of federal, state, and local law. Alcohol-impaired driving is also against the law.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. When consumed in excess, it leads to intoxication; loss of control; impaired coordination, reflexes, and judgment; and, in extreme cases, death.

Most people can process about one standard drink an hour, but many factors—including weight, rate of consumption, and chromosomal sex— contribute to an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (or BAC). Time is the only thing that will sober up an intoxicated person.

It’s important to note that not everyone drinks in college. In the 2019 – 2020 ACHA NCHA Survey, 42% of UTK students reported drinking only once, twice, or not at all over a 3-month time period. Out of these students, 27% had never consumed alcohol.

1,519 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from unintentional alcohol related injuries, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2021

Discuss your family history of alcohol use and misuse with your student. Family history is likely more important than you may think! In numerous studies, family history has been proven to be a risk factor for developing an alcohol problem. First-degree relatives (parents, children, and siblings) of those treated for alcohol use disorder (AUD) are at two to four times greater risk of being diagnosed with AUD compared to those with no treated relatives

As you prepare to talk with your student, take some time to process your family’s history with alcohol and its effects. Avoid telling your student drinking stories from your own college years. Entertaining your student with these stories can normalize what, even then, was risk-taking behavior. These conversations can also mislead your student and make it appear that you have given them permission to participate in dangerous alcohol consumption.

We are all at our best when we have a clear understanding of our actions and their impact. For this reason, the final critical element of the conversation about alcohol is explaining the expectations you have of your student. Know your stance on underage drinking and make sure your student knows it, too.

Set clear and realistic expectations regarding academic performance. Studies have found that drinking may contribute to a decline in grades. If students know their parents expect sound academic work, they are likely to be more devoted to studying and spend less time partying and drinking alcohol.

Set consequences in advance for failing to meet expectations. Doing so will allow you to impose any necessary consequences consistently instead of basing them in the heat of the moment.Your student always has a choice about whether or not to drink.

Explain the reasons behind your expectations and encourage your student to talk about any concerns.

Questions to Ask Yourself Beforehand

  • Do you want your student to abstain from drinking?
  • If your student has an unintended consequence from alcohol, how will you respond?
  • If you think your student may have a substance use issue, how will you respond?
  • If your student says they are going to drink, how will you respond?
  • If your student is somewhere and feels concerned for themselves or for others, whom should they contact?

Step 2: Start the Conversation

It’s up to you, as a parent, to start the conversation about alcohol. As with anything important, taking some time to set the stage and plan the details will help it go more smoothly. Think about when and where you and your student can best talk. You may want to talk at home, or consider going out to dinner or to a coffee shop. Wherever you choose, make sure it is a place where you can be comfortable in one-on-one conversation.

With important conversations, sometimes the hardest part can be knowing how to open the subject. Here are a couple of ideas to help you get started:

“You will be leaving for college in August, and all of us in the family share your excitement as you begin this new chapter. Perhaps you can help me with something that is on my mind. I have heard about how freshman students can fall into a heavy drinking scene, and that worries me. Maybe if we talk about what you think about drinking, I might feel a little better. Would you mind giving me a few minutes to chat about this?”

“You’ve probably heard a lot about alcohol in school, and I would like to talk with you about it as well. I feel like I would not be a good parent if I did not talk to you about something so important before you leave for college. Do you mind talking with me for a few minutes about this?”

Helpful Pointers to Consider

  • Ask first: Ask your student about their views on alcohol and college life.
  • Listen: Listen to your student. Listening is the most important part of good communication. While you listen attentively, try not to be critical.
  • Give constructive feedback: share the facts, and debunk myths. Refrain from blanket statements like “Students who get drunk are stupid. Beware of using scare tactics such as “If you drink, you will flunk out of college” to influence your student; this approach may backfire.
  • Help plan: Help your student plan ways to handle peer pressure. Brainstorm ways in which your student can respond to offers of alcohol. Responses can be as simple as “No thanks, do you have any soda?” or “No thanks, I have a huge test tomorrow.”
  • Share your experience: Be prepared to discuss your own drinking. Be honest in your answers. Your student may ask if you drank alcohol when you were underage. If you chose not to drink, explain why. If you chose to drink, share an example of a negative consequence of your drinking. If you are an active drinker, be prepared to talk about why social drinking is OK for you but not for your student.

Step 3: Keep the Conversation Going

After the initial conversation, continue to talk with your student about alcohol. It is common for conversations about alcohol to happen at more than one sitting, and for the depth of the conversation to evolve over time. Keeping the communication lines open can let your student know that you are there to discuss drinking and that you will continue to support them in making informed choices.

Once your student leaves for school, you can still be available to talk, listen, and provide support.

Ways to Stay Connected

Give your student a call frequently during their first few weeks away. Research shows that parents who communicate regularly with their freshman student, especially on weekends, affect student drinking in a positive way. Pay special attention to experiences and activities during the first six weeks of school. It is during this critical period that students are learning how to manage their time appropriately.
Send a text to wish your student good luck on a test or ask how things are going. It’s an easy, nonintrusive way to show that you are thinking about your student, and it gives them an easy way to respond.
If you do not live too far away from campus, plan a lunch or shopping date with your student. Avoid drop-in visits and staying too long to avoid the risk of wearing out your welcome. Attend Family Weekend and other campus events that are open to parents. While you are there, ask to meet your student’s friends.

If you think your student has a problem: Be aware of the signs of an alcohol use disorder by your student. These may include lower grades, unavailability or reluctance to talk with you, trouble with law enforcement, or mood changes. If you believe your student may be having trouble with alcohol, it is important to find the most appropriate help. For more information and 24-hour-a-day assistance, call 865-974-HELP.

Risk Reduction

UT is actively working to keep students safe, healthy, and informed about the effects, risks, and consequences of alcohol use. Encourage your student to learn about and take advantage of the following programs, resources, and procedures.

This program centers on alcohol risk reduction. We know that drinking is a big responsibility, and if our students choose to drink, they should be equipped with information to do so in a risk reducing manner. Through open discussion and activities, students will learn about factors that influence our blood alcohol concentration, binge drinking and related risks, signs of intoxication and overdose, standard drink sizes, and risk reduction strategies.
Vols ACT trains the UT community to recognize potentially harmful situations and safely intervene. This program includes information on how to recognize alcohol overdose, care-taking skills for when someone has overdosed on alcohol, and how to be an active bystander and safely intervene in risky situations. Specific scenarios related to concerning drinking behavior and drinking and driving are discussed.
Alcohol eCheckup to Go is a self-assessment tool for students to examine their alcohol use. It provides immediate personalized feedback about drinking patterns, health and personal consequences, personal and family risk factors, campus and community support, and emergency services. Answers are confidential and identifiable personal information from the survey is not stored. It is available at
All events hosted by the Center for Student Engagement and the Campus Events Board are alcohol-free. The Campus Events Board hosts a variety of fun events throughout the semester. For updated event information, check out @UTKCSE and @UTKCEB on Instagram.
Many students arrive at UT with a skewed view of a typical student’s drinking behaviors. These views often impact how students choose to engage with alcohol. The Center for Health Education and Wellness actively works to correct these misperceptions by providing corrective information regarding student drinking behavior. We pursue creative strategies throughout the year to communicate this important information to our students.
Consistent enforcement of university alcohol policies in residence halls. Housing staff members receive extensive training about the policies, procedures, and consequences of alcohol consumption by UT students. All students found in violation of the policies will receive consistent enforcement. See the disciplinary process information on page 16 of this booklet for more information.
Alcohol Education Program (AEP) and Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS).  AEP and BASICS are typically offered as educational sanctions for students who receive citations from the university for alcohol violations. Visit or contact the Center for Health Education and Wellness at 865-974-5725 to learn more about these programs.

Student Conduct and Community Standards

Student Conduct & Community Standards (SCCS) develops student integrity and accountability through an educational, consistent, and equitable conduct process.

According to the Student Code of Conduct, SCCS may hold students responsible for incidents involving the use or possession of alcohol and/or drugs. Several Standards of Conduct relate:

  • Standard 18: Alcohol Related Misconduct – University Property or Activities
  • Standard 19: Alcohol Related Misconduct Prohibited by Law
  • Standard 20: Providing Alcohol to Underage Person
  • Standard 21: Drug and Drug Paraphernalia

Sanctions for conduct violations include, but are not limited to:

  • Educational Activities/Classes
  • Warning
  • Disciplinary Probation
  • Deferred Suspension
  • Expulsion

To learn more about the Code of Conduct, the student conduct process and types of sanctions, visit

Parent Notifications & FERPA Waivers: In accordance with state law, SCCS will send a letter to parents or guardians regarding an alcohol or drug violation if the student is under twenty-one (21) years of age. Staff members cannot speak to parents or guardians about the specifics of a student’s incident without the student submitting a signed Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver.

The University uses the following definition of possession: “the direct control of a substance or property, actual knowledge of a substance or property and/or being in such close proximity to the substance or property that it is a reasonable presumption that one had knowledge of the substance or property.”

Campus Resources

Center for Student Engagement (CSE)

CSE inclusive and innovative opportunities for students to build connections and create community through meaningful involvement, personal development, and co-curricular learning to enhance their Volunteer experience.

Through the CSE’s Campus Events Board (CEB), our community is offered a balanced and diverse range of events, drawing thousands of people to our numerous events throughout the year. From speakers to comedians, game nights to fine art, CEB enhances the campus community and provides an outlet for students to engage with others. To learn more, visit

Student Counseling Center

UT’s primary facility for personal counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological outreach and consultation services. To learn more, visit

Online Resources

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

College Drinking – Changing the Culture

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Rethinking Drinking

East Tennessee Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism