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A matter of degree

By Neha Navsaria, PhD


Think about this scenario: your child goes off to college without knowing any detailed information about alcohol and drug use and then encounters an environment with the following facts:

• Teenagers tend to increase alcohol use during the first half of their first year in college.¹

• During high school, teenagers who plan to attend college drink less than their non-college-bound classmates. However, as time passes, the heavy drinking rates of college students surpass those of their non-college peers.²

• The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that drinking by college students aged 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,825 student deaths, 599,000 injuries, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.²

The reality is drinking and drug use is very common on college campuses, but drinking at parties and experimenting with drugs does not necessarily mean your child will develop a serious problem. In general, moderate alcohol intake is defined as 1 to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.³

Before they enter college, teenagers should understand the difference between casual drinking and drinking with serious consequences. They should also learn how to make healthy decisions to avoid being susceptible to risky situations.

Too often South Asian parents never talk about these issues in detail, perhaps out of simple discomfort, denial, or the assumption that they are problems only of Western society. However, if you look at prevalence rates in South Asia they are similar to rates in other countries.4 And for South Asians in the U.S., lifetime drug usage is approximately 16.5% according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.5

Daya, a South Asian organization in Houston, has noted an increase in drug and alcohol use among South Asian youth in the U.S.4 This increase prompted Daya to host a seminar for adolescents and their parents to address the issue, and was held in collaboration with the University of Houston because professors on campus observed unhealthy patterns of drug and alcohol use among South Asian students.

How can alcohol and drug use become a problem in the context of South Asian culture? Being raised in a strict environment can often lead to increased drinking once teenagers enter college or become independent from their parents.³ This does not mean the best solution is to have your children stay at home.

Strict environments do not give children a chance to experience the world and learn how to handle situations such as peer-pressure or temptation. Such settings may not feel emotionally supportive and teens and young adults can turn to alcohol or drugs rather than discuss their stresses with family.

This information can leave a parent with confusing thoughts: “If I monitor my child too closely will I be viewed as a strict parent? But if I don’t ask my children questions and have conversations with them, they won’t be prepared for the world! What do I do?”

Many studies have shown a mix of both styles is associated with less drinking and alcohol-related problems.¹ Monitoring teenagers’ activities in combination with an emotionally supportive parenting style appears to be the best approach. How do we translate this approach to a real-life situation?

Let’s say you find out your child has experimented with alcohol. You should be firm, but not judgmental. Do not treat them as if they committed an unforgiveable crime—instead, talk to them about it. The thing to remember is being a teenager is about experimenting and not making the best decisions. What you can do as a parent is prepare them on how to make better decisions:

– Ask teens about why they drank or tried drugs. Was it peer-pressure, curiosity or a stress-reliever?

– Educate them about the dangers of drinking alcohol and drug use and their effects on the body and mind. These can include loss of inhibitions and memory, impaired decision-making skills, increased aggressiveness and possibly alcohol poisoning.1

– Spend time reminding your children of the values, attitudes and expectations that you have instilled in them.¹ When they are confronted with tough decisions, it will be these values that help guide their decision-making process.

– Stay involved by speaking to your children frequently and keeping up on their activities (not just the academic ones!). The more you have open, honest and non-judgmental dialogues about their social life, the more open your children will be with you.

And a final piece of advice: Teenagers begin drinking around age 15¹, so having a conversation about these issues right before they start college could be too late. Start a habit of these conversations when they are in high school. For more information visit www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov.


¹Shrager, L. (2010). Before college, prepare kids for the party scene. timesunion.com from http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/Before-college-prepare-kids-for-the-party-scene-597186.php

²National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2010). Fall semester – A time for parents to revisit discussions about college drinking. College Drinking – Changing the culture. Retrieved from http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/NIAAACollegeMaterials/collegeFactSheetForParents.aspx

³Prevention and Awareness for South Asians (2012). Alcohol use and South Asians. Palo Alto Medical Foundation from http://www.pamf.org/southasian/risk/concerns/alcohol.html

4Kumar, S. (2007). UH to host seminar on alcohol, drug use among South Asian youths/Event shines spotlight on growing problem. Houston Chronicle, Page 6

5Fazio, A., Joe-Laidler, K., Moloney, M. & Hunt, G. (2010). Gender, Sexuality, and ethnicity as factors of club drug use among Asian Americans. Journal on Drug Issues, 40 (2).


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