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Going to College: How to Prepare

Here are some important tips to make the transition to college a little easier.

Drugs and Alcohol on Campus

"Because of the way their brains are wired, college students are more susceptible to overuse of drugs or alcohol, which can lead to extremely serious problems," says David Fassler, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist. He says college students can consume greater quantities of drugs and alcohol than adults and often appear to be able to better function than adults, even when very impaired.

Parents might be relieved to know, however, that most students don't abuse drugs or alcohol, says Fabiano. A history of drug or alcohol problems within the family will increase the likelihood that your kid will develop problems. That's why Fabiano says you should never glorify your old drinking days if you had them.

If they do screw up, don't panic. Fabiano says that tripping early in the college career is often a part of exploration and a newfound sense of independence. That doesn't mean that you should turn a blind eye, however, if you suspect your kid is in the midst of a drug or alcohol problem.

Educating your kid before they leave may be your best defense against drug or alcohol abuse. Letting them know about the risks of partying too hard -- alcohol poisoning or drunk driving, for example -- will better prepare them. Rothstein says frequently colleges and universities send educational information concerning drugs and alcohol home before the school year starts. Some students are even asked to complete a program online and a knowledge quiz. The Minnesota Institute of Public Health, for example, designed an information brochure for schools to use, which you can download or read online.

When Depression Rears Its Ugly Head

"In recent years, we've seen a significant increase in mental health issues and problems among college students," says Fassler. The most recent data from the ACHA show an increase in depression among college students over the last three years. In 2003, almost 16% of females and 8.5% of males reported ever getting diagnosed with depression.

One reason, Fassler says, is that unlike previous generations, more students with existing chronic conditions are getting treatment during high school and are mentally able to go on to college. If your kid is currently undergoing mental health treatment, make sure they continue their care and/or medications.

For students who develop depressive symptoms after they start college, stress and isolation are often to blame. "College is often the first time they've been away from home and their established support system," says Fassler, who works with the Walden Behavioral Care LLC in Waltham, Mass., a clinic that specializes in treating college students.

As a result, not all symptoms spell a major depressive disorder. Often, students experience homesick feelings or face social challenges -- not liking their roommate, for example -- that make the initial months of college especially challenging. It's normal for students to change and grow -- and have some difficulties -- during their first year of college, but you should keep an eye and ear out for what Kenzig describes as a significant change in attitude. Your kids may require help if they are experiencing extreme mood swings, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a loss of interest in things they once loved, loss of appetite, or significant changes in sleep patterns.

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