FILE - In this April 30, 2012 file photo, students walk across campus at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt. Representatives of five Vermont colleges and universities are gathering Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 to talk about solutions to problems created by binge drinking among college students. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)
WILSON RING Associated Press
CASTLETON, Vt. -- Parent awareness of their college-student children's drinking patterns and problems can help reduce the scourge of binge drinking on campuses across the state, officials said Wednesday.
In some cases that involvement begins long-before the students arrive at school or after an established student has been found in violation of college alcohol rules.
Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said that college students tend to drink less when their parents are aware of what they are doing, especially when they first arrive on campus.
"Research has shown that continued parental monitoring of college students reduces alcohol consumption and that students' perceptions of their parents' awareness also moderates consumption and frequency of use in freshman," Chen said. "We know that the first six weeks is really vital for our students."
Chen said 54 percent of Vermont students admit to high-risk drinking -- 10 percent higher than the national average -- and Vermont has the second-highest rate in the country of binge drinking among all people aged 18-25.
Nationwide, college alcohol abuse leads to the death of about 1,800 students a year, about 600,000 injuries, nearly 700,000 assaults and almost 100,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape. One in four students suffers academically because of alcohol problems, Chen said.
In many cases, drug and alcohol abuse is just a symptom of broader mental health challenges.
"The student of today is a lot more complex and often comes to school with higher needs," said Mary Masson, the director of student health services at St. Michael's College in Colchester. "They may come to school with serious mental health history, PTSD, and very often well-documented drug and alcohol issues."
At St. Michaels, Masson and others have developed a support network that encourages students to be aware of high-risk drinking problems and other mental health challenges so they can help others find counseling resources.
At Johnson State College, parents are sent a letter when students violate campus alcohol rules. The hope is the student will have the conversation with their parents before the letter arrives.
"It took a lot of conversations with parents on the phone, with parents during summer orientations and fall orientations for them to realize it doesn't have to be a part of the college experience, and it doesn't have to be a rite of passage," said Michele Whitmore, an associate dean of students at Johnson State College.
At the University of Vermont, parents are kept aware through emails of what are considered to be high-risk activities, such as a particular weekend event. Those emails begin before the students arrive on campus, said UVM Assistant Dean of Students Patience Whitworth.
"We have learned that when we provide resources early and often, it matters," she said.