Partying at WSU – What’s really happening?
Yes, some student at WSU party and use alcohol and other substances, just like at any other university. However, our research over the past decade tells us that WSU does not have a bigger problem than other universities of a similar size and demographics. Every other year we implement the National College Health Assessment (NCHA), which is a confidential questionnaire about health and social behaviors. Most of our data matches the national statistics. Here are some NCHA 2016 data regarding WSU students and their substance use and social habits.
- 18.3% report having never used alcohol (slightly lower than the national average of 20.9%)
- 67% have used alcohol sometime in the past 30 days (equal to the national average of 67%)
- 53.7% report having never used marijuana (lower than the national average of 61% and may be affected by recent legalization of cannabis in the State of WA)
- 26.4% have used marijuana sometime in the past 30 days (higher than the national average of 18.3% and may be effected by recent legalization of cannabis in the State of WA)
- 58.3% reported drinking between 0-4 drinks the “last time you partied” (higher than the national average of 57.2%)
These statistics mean when WSU students party, the majority tend to drink moderately or not at all. A significant portion of our student population don’t drink or use other substances at all. When asked Within the last 30 days, how often do you think the typical student at your school used: Most WSU students overestimated use for both alcohol and marijuana. Compare the percentages below with those above. Participants reported that they perceive:
- 3.8% of students have never used alcohol (below the national average of 5.1%)
- 6.7% of students have never used marijuana (somewhat lower than the national average of 7.5% and may be affected by recent legalization of cannabis in the State of WA)
- 94.7% of students used alcohol sometime in the past 30 days (lower than the national average of 98.7%)
- 89.5% of student used marijuana sometime in the past 30 days (lower than the national average of 97.6%)
So WSU students, like other university students, overestimate how much other WSU students are partying and underestimate how many other students don’t party. This creates a social norms misperception about WSU students partying more than they actually do. Sometimes these social norms misperceptions can affect new students coming to campus as they think “everyone” drinks and that they need to join in the party scene to make friends, when this really isn’t the case. On the other hand, yes, some of our WSU student do party and engage in high risk social behavior. For example, about 35% of our students report drinking more than 5 drinks at a sitting in the past two weeks. However, this is not the majority of students. Partying and socializing is a part of university life and it is available and in the environment, if one is looking for it. In sum, your student will have many choices about how to spend their time.
As a parent you continue to be a primary influence in your son’s or daughter’s life. You are key in helping them choose the right college so that they get the best education possible. At the same time, you also need to ensure that when they go off to college they live in a safe environment.
Parents of a High School Student – Choosing the Right College
- As you examine potential colleges, include in your assessment inquiries about campus alcohol policies.
- During campus visits, ask college administrators to outline in clear terms how they go about enforcing underage drinking prevention, whether the school sponsors alcohol-free social events, what other socializing alternatives are available to students, what procedures are in place to notify parents about alcohol and substance abuse problems, what counseling services are available to students, and how energetic and consistent the follow-up is on students who exhibit alcohol abuse and other problem behaviors.
- Inquire about housing arrangements and whether alcohol-free dorms are available.
- Ask whether the college/university employs student resident advisors (RAs) or adults to manage/monitor dormitories.
- If there are fraternities and/or sororities on campus, inquire about their influence on the overall social atmosphere at the college.
- Ask if the school offers Friday classes. Administrators are increasingly concerned that no classes on Friday may lead to an early start in partying on the weekends and increased alcohol abuse problems.
- Find out the average number of years it takes to graduate from that college.
- Determine the emphasis placed on athletics on campus and whether tailgating at games involves alcohol.
- Find out the number of liquor law violations and alcohol-related injuries and deaths the campus has had in previous years.
- Finally, consider the location of the college and how it may affect the social atmosphere.
Parents of a College Freshmen – Staying Involved
- Pay special attention to your son’s or daughter’s experiences and activities during the crucial first 6 weeks on campus. With a great deal of free time, many students initiate heavy drinking during these early days of college, and the potential exists for excessive alcohol consumption to interfere with successful adaptation to campus life. You should know that about one-third of first-year students fail to enroll for their second year.
- Find out if there is a program during orientation that educates students about campus policies related to alcohol use. If there is one, attend with your son or daughter, or at least be familiar with the name of the person who is responsible for campus counseling programs.
- Inquire about and make certain you understand the college’s “parental notification” policy.
- Call your son or daughter frequently during the first 6 weeks of college.
- Inquire about their roommates, the roommates’ behavior, and how disagreements are settled or disruptive behavior dealt with.
- Make certain that they understand how alcohol use can lead to date rape, violence, and academic failure.
- Be aware of the signs of possible alcohol abuse by your son or daughter (e.g., lower grades, never available or reluctant to talk with you, unwilling to talk about activities with friends, trouble with campus authorities, serious mood changes).
- If you believe your son or daughter is having a problem with alcohol, do not blame them, but find appropriate treatment.
- Call and/or visit campus health services and ask to speak with a counselor.
- Indicate to the Dean of Students, either in person or by email, your interest in the welfare of your son or daughter and that you want to be actively involved in his or her recovery despite the geographic separation.
- Pay your son or daughter an unexpected visit. Ask to meet their friends. Attend Parents’ Weekend and other campus events open to parents.
- Continue to stay actively involved in the life of your son or daughter. Even though they may be away at college, they continue to be an extension of your family and its values.
In 1999, a majority of college and university presidents identified alcohol abuse as one of the greatest problems facing campus life and students. A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges presents a series of recommendations to college presidents, researchers, parents, and students to deal with this continuing public health problem in a scientific and sensible way. We encourage parents to continue to educate themselves by referring to and using the materials at collegedrinkingprevention.org.