Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Will College Increase Substance Abuse Risks?

Many parents are concerned about the risks they feel are inherent to sending their child to college. Will the liberal environment and lack of supervision encourage drug or alcohol abuse? Binge drinking is a clear problem among college-aged children, but is sending your son off to school a guarantee that he will indulge in this behavior and ruin his life without you there to help him?

College: A Contributing Factor in Adult Alcohol Use Disorders?

A new study published in Structural Equation Modeling sought to answer this question and determined that enrollment in college is not a causative factor to an addiction to drugs or alcohol later in life. Even though college campuses are known spots for binge drinking, it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion that your son will develop an alcohol abuse problem even if he binge drinks while in school.

In fact, the study found that enrolling in college may prevent drug dependence in adulthood in the students who may have a high risk of developing this issue due to economic status or a mother’s low education level, according to The study results found that kids were six times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder in adulthood by the age of 33 if they did not go to college.

Stephanie Lanza was the lead researcher on the study that demonstrated that college does not lead to adult alcohol addiction. In a news release, she said, “Hypothetically, if we could send everyone in the United States to college, that would be protective overall and would significantly reduce problematic substance use in adulthood. But because it’s not the reality that everyone in the United States goes to college, we had to apply our statistical techniques to balance the data. After doing that, we found that college enrollment does not protect against problem drinking, nor does it place individuals at risk for future problem drinking.”

Addressing the Issue of Alcohol Abuse With Your Son

Parents are encouraged to have a frank discussion about the risks inherent to alcohol use with their children before they head off to school. Other research has shown that these discussions can be hugely influential on a child’s choices when away from home. Though it may not be a comfortable discussion, it’s one that can help your son to avoid potentially devastating choices when at college and later in life as well.