Even once college students have left the nest and settled into dorm life, their drinking behaviors can be influenced by their parents, research finds.

In one study, Kim Fromme, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin measured college students' perceptions of their parents' awareness and caring during the last three months of high school and about midway through their freshman year of college. They found that students who believed their parents knew and cared about their drinking behavior drank less — and less often — than those who thought their parents didn't know or care about their alcohol consumption (Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2007). How much peers knew and cared, however, didn't seem to make a difference.

"A lot of folks think that once you get old enough to go to college, parents don't make much difference," says Fromme, a professor of clinical psychology at UT–Austin. "But our research shows that parental awareness and caring was still exerting an influence on alcohol use, sexual behavior and drug use."

Other research by Penn State psychologist Robert Turrisi, PhD, and colleagues has confirmed associations between college students' drinking and parental monitoring, parental attitudes toward drinking and parent-child communication. The researchers have developed interventions to put these findings to work, including an evidence-based handbook that educates parents about college drinking and encourages them to talk to their children about it.

A study in the July issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment explored the handbook's effectiveness by giving it to parents before their children entered college and giving some parents "booster" brochures throughout their children's first semester. Four months later, the researchers compared the students' self-reported drinking behaviors with a control group of students who had no parental intervention. The study found that all students drank more once they entered college, but the group whose parents had received the booster brochures increased their drinking significantly less than the other group and the control — indicating that parental involvement throughout college, not only before, makes a difference.

— Anna Miller