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I grew up in a small town, and there wasn’t much to do on a Friday night except hit the local liquor store and hang out in someone’s basement drinking until we couldn’t see straight. When I think about it now, it wasn’t as fun as we thought it was back then. In fact, most of those memories aren’t even memories; they are pieced together from people relaying stories back to us about how we acted and behaved. Thankfully, I grew out of that “phase” of my life, but not everyone does. College age drinking is so out of control; young people died from alcohol poisoning or accidents related to alcohol consumption on college campuses every year. Now that I’m older and have a college bound daughter, I wanted to know how to speak to her about alcohol issues and addiction as she prepares to leave the nest.

Without trying to be scary and doomsday-like, I spoke to my daughter about how it is a lot of fun to party and have a good time with friends; but it’s so important to pay attention to your own drinking. Having a few beers with friends on the weekend is one thing, but drinking 3, 4, 5 nights a week can be a sign of a real problem. College doesn’t have to be a drunken blur, and in fact, more and more people realize that there is more to those formative years than just seeing how fast you can down a beer.

As important as it is to pay attention to your own drinking, it’s also important to watch out for friends who may not realize they have been consuming alcohol regularly and without reprieve. It can be difficult to talk to your “grown up” children about alcoholism, but I’ve seen too many people die from a stupid choice they made so let the conversation go to the wayside.

I spoke to my daughter about watching out for when weekend drinking turns to weekend binging, turns to “I can’t get out of bed on Monday for class.” Signs of alcoholism creep in slowly, and most people would deny that they “have a problem,” especially when there is such an expectation that drinking in college is “normal.” There’s nothing normal about not being about to get out of bed. And the sure sign of a drinking problem is when you can’t get on with your day to day life because of drinking – whether that’s because you are still drinking, want to drink more, or because you are hungover from drinking – it all adds up to a problem.

We all want to be able to trust that our college age children will be able to make good choices, but just think about all the terrible choices we made at that age! We wouldn’t have listened to our parents if our lives depended on it. Unfortunately, the lives of young people today do depend on it. There’s so much more pressure to fit in these days, even at the college age, than there ever was when we were growing up. Be frank. Be firm. And don’t scare them into thinking they can’t have fun: college age kids need to know it’s okay to have a good time but encourage them to recognize when a good time turns into a bender.