Managing chronic illness in collegeSuzanne Shaffer
Got your attention, didn’t I?! My goal is not to cause panic, but to share information I hope will help you have honest, empowering conversations with your students.
Because the fact is, college kids will encounter substance use, partying and sexual activity. By continuing the kinds of “talks” we had while they were growing up — adult versions for the college years — we let them know we care about them making safe, healthy lifestyle choices.
To start, it helps to understand that the human brain is not fully developed until almost the third decade of life. The frontal lobes (which dictate impulse control, decision making, working memory and judgment) are the last to develop. No surprise, then, that drugs and alcohol affect a younger brain in different ways than a mature brain and may have more severe implications toward addiction and overdose.
Substance use and abuse — particularly of prescription medication — and binge drinking are serious health concerns for college-aged men and women. The most commonly abused prescription drugs (easily accessed on campus) are stimulants such as Adderall and Concerta, painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, and depressants such as Xanax and Valium. Mixing alcohol with prescription medications can be a deadly combination. Raise the subject with your student simply by asking what they’ve observed. Do they know anyone taking Adderall as a “study aid”?
Go over this helpful campus safety checklist with your college student.
Then there’s partying. Whenever you have the chance, talk with your student about the social culture on campus and their own social life. Share thoughts drink limits and how keeping safe at parties can minimize the negative effects of drugs and alcohol and lower the risk for sexual assault.
Maybe you’ve seen the documentary "The Hunting Ground” — if not, I recommend it. Most schools provide education and outreach about sexual respect, consent and bystander intervention. Programming emphasizes the male role in assault prevention as well as strategies for women to protect themselves (women being predominantly, though not exclusively, the victims of attempted and completed rapes).
Last but not least is discussing sexual health with your student. A key talking point is how the use of drugs and alcohol can lower inhibitions and may result in unwanted sexual exploration or contact. And, of course, when one is not prepared for sexual intimacy, pregnancy and STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) are much more likely to occur. Fortunately, most colleges and universities have health centers that provide STI testing, pregnancy testing and contraception. Encouraging your student to be in control of their sexual health is a powerful message and will help them to consider options when and if they become sexually active.
I’ve always found these conversations easier to have while doing something active with my son and daughter, like hiking or even driving. You know your own child, what he or she has been through, what type of support they need and how to communicate with them best in any given moment. When our students know they can reach out to us when and if something difficult, awkward or downright awful occurs, it will make all the difference.