Search This Site

Substance Use among Students: How Parents Can be Partners in Prevention

The decisions college students make about substance use can have a powerful impact on their lives. UVA prevention programs are based on the knowledge that effective programs are science-based, comprehensive, and coordinated across the University. The culture of student self-governance ensures that students are significantly engaged and empowered in the decision-making process.

UVA works to prevent alcohol and other drug misuse through multiple strategies, including enforcement of state law and University policies. In each program, students are reminded that breaking the law by consuming alcohol under the age of 21 can result in legal consequences. This message alone, however, is not enough. Our data show that nearly half of UVA students (47 percent) report drinking with the intention of getting drunk at least once before they enrolled at UVA for their first year.

UVA, therefore, provides developmentally appropriate educational programs for students, intervention for students who experience negative consequences related to use of alcohol or other drugs, and partners with parents, faculty, and the community.

Our combined efforts are making an impact. UVA students today are less likely to drink in excessive ways, more likely to use protective strategies to reduce their risk, and less likely to experience negative consequences of drinking as compared with their predecessors.


This one-on-one, evidence-based program provides personalized feedback through a confidential, nonjudgmental conversation. The program helps students explore their strengths, motivations, and wellness goals as they identify strategies to reduce the risk of negative consequences associated with alcohol or other drug use in the future.

Hoos in Recovery

HiR is a supportive, confidential community of UVA students, faculty, staff, and alumni in recovery or considering recovery from alcohol or other drug use disorders. The group meets weekly and enjoys occasional social events.

Tips for Parents

Here are a few suggestions on how parents can continue to support students in making healthy choices:

  • Initiate conversations about substance use choices and make your expectations clear. Your daughter or son probably won’t bring up the issue without some prompting. Parental expectations do have an impact on student behaviors, both positively and negatively. Conversations that take place before Move-In Day have the greatest impact. The first weeks of college can set the tone for a student’s entire college career, so have a follow-up conversation (or three!) to check in.
  • Know that most parents do have these conversations. A national study found that three-quarters of parents say they discussed family rules about alcohol use with their daughters and sons in the previous three months.
  • Avoid scare tactics. Be factual and straightforward about your family beliefs and your concern about the choices your daughter or son may be facing. Ninety percent of young adults say the way to reach them is to focus more on health and safety issues than on legal consequences.
  • Know that UVA students drink far less than you might think. A 2017 UVA study found that on a typical Friday night, a majority of students either don’t drink (42 percent) or consume no more than three alcoholic beverages (65 percent). Regrettably, many students (and some parents) believe that all UVA students drink heavily, and this misperception of what is “normal” can influence higher-risk drinking choices. When we give students accurate information about their peers’ actions, we increase healthy behaviors.
  • Treat substance use disorders as you would any other health issue. Those with a family history of substance use disorders are four times more likely to develop a problem. Students need to be aware of any potential genetic risk so they can make more informed choices about alcohol or other drug use. In addition, being aware of any red flag behaviors, and addressing them with empathy, will assist your student in getting the help they may need.

For more information about substance misuse prevention programs and support for students in recovery from substance use disorders, contact Student Health's Office of Health Promotion.