When You’re Worried About Your College-aged Child and Addiction

It is very common to worry about your adult child as they leave home for college, and one of the most frequent concerns is around alcohol and drug use. It’s also a cultural rite of passage for many young people to experiment with mind-altering substances. Open communication with your child about drugs and alcohol is perhaps the most important step you can take as a parent, and one that many parents find daunting. Recognizing that they are likely to experiment, and emphasizing that you are available to talk or for support without judgment is key.

Carey Cook wrote an excellent article on recognizing the signs of addiction and working to prevent it that you can access here:


With the end of one semester here and a new one about to start, now is a good time to reflect on your child’s progress and challenges. What do you do if you are still concerned that your child is continuing to use drugs and alcohol and that it may be seriously affecting their functioning in relationships, school engagement, and other areas?

Talk to them! You may want to talk to your college student over the holidays and breaks. This can be a ideal time when, your college student is away from the stress and hustle of school. I know it can be hard because you just want to enjoy the holidays and don’t want to push your child away but hopefully these tips will help make it easier.

  • Speak honestly and opening about your concerns and the dangers, be specific about how you feel it is affecting their life.
  • Discuss the signs with them: drinking or using alone, blacking out, feeling like you “need” to drink and use, losing interest in other activities, letting go of friendships that don’t involve these activities. Let them know that not everyone at college is partying at the level they and their friends seem to be (they may not realize this).
  • Suggest that they work with a mental health counselor with experience and training in addiction science.
  • Decide whether you want to make an ultimatum that they must participate in treatment as a condition of you supporting them in other ways (be very careful here!)
  • If you think you’re child’s life is in danger due to drug and/or alcohol abuse, consider setting up an intervention with family, friends, and a trained professional, to encourage them to enter treatment. As an adult, they are ultimately free to make their own choices (within the limits of the law) and unless they are deemed a threat to themselves or another by a judge or magistrate they cannot be forced into treatment. However, if they know how many people are worried about them and they are given some options, they may choose to change paths.

Take care of yourself! If you still find yourself worrying and possibly obsessing about your child’s activities and safety, it’s now time to prioritize your own self-care.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Take stock of how much time and energy you’re putting into handling your adult child’s life. Make sure there is a balance and if you’ve gotten away from some of your favorite people or activities, be sure to prioritize them again.
  • Check in with your spouse, partner, or good friend. They may have some insight for you, especially if they know your child too. Maybe they will help you relax and trust your child more – or maybe they too will have concerns and can help you decide your next steps.
  • Take some time for yourself each day. This is different from engaging in the previously mentioned activities such as your favorite gym class or meeting a friend for tea. Carve out a few minutes each day to bring your awareness to your present moment experience with curiosity and acceptance.
  • Practice mindfulness: take a few deep breaths, notice how your body feels, or take a walk in the woods while taking in the sights and sounds. This is good advice for anyone, regardless of life circumstances, and over time is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your brain health and emotional stability.
  • Keep in contact with your child, but also remember that they are learning to be independent and too much advice or “hovering” will impede the process and may fuel resentment if they find it over-bearing.
  • Finally, if you try these tactics and you still feel overwhelmed by concern, considering joining a community help group such as Al-Anon (for friends and families of alcoholics) or Nar-Anon (for friends and family of drug addicts). These groups have some open meetings that anyone can attend, even if you’re not sure your loved one is addicted. You can learn about addiction, make connections, and hear how other people are coping with the uncertainty and chaos that addiction can bring into our lives.

We know that addiction can be one of the hardest things for any parent to face. We hope that looking at ways to support your college student and yourself has been helpful to you! You can find my contact information below; please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns.

This article was written by:

Olivia Posner, LCSW






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Carey J. Cook, LPC

Carey J. Cook, LPC

Carey J Cook is a Licensed Professional therapist in Asheville, NC. She has a private practice and is the co-founder of Bridge Box which was inspired by her work with college students. In different capacities, Carey has provided education and therapy to college students and families for over a decade. Carey seeks to understand and support college students during this phase of life and provide tangible tools to students via Bridge Box.

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