Virginia Tech® home

Discussing Alcohol and Other Drugs

Hokie Family Handbook

Morning on campus
Photo credit: Ray Meese


This family guide will help you talk about substance use with your college student, give you insight to the college experience, and provide resources you need to navigate these important conversations in a productive and meaningful way. The importance of these conversations occurring BEFORE your student comes to college cannot be understated.

Please note that, while we primarily focus on alcohol in this guidebook, we have also included cannabis information because it is now legal to possess in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Our Philosophy

Virginia Tech believes that decisions concerning alcohol consumption are a personal choice and that students should make informed alcohol use decisions. For those students who are not 21, the only legal choice is to abstain from drinking. For those who choose to consume alcohol, we recommend that they drink in a low risk and legal manner to reduce or eliminate negative outcomes.

While it is important for the university to enforce Commonwealth alcohol laws, we also have a duty to implement effective alcohol misuse prevention programs and strategies. “Harm reduction" is an approach that assists those students who choose to drink to reduce alcohol-related negative outcomes. Research indicates that harm reduction strategies are one of the most effective approaches for reducing alcohol misuse among college students.

Alcohol Use on College Campus

College exposes students to new people and experiences which can play a positive role in their growth and development. Going to college also means that they will likely encounter new experiences that are not as positive, like pressure to participate in high-risk drinking behaviors. High risk drinking behaviors include:

  • Drinking alcohol under the age of 21.
  • Chugging alcohol, taking shots, playing drinking games.
  • Drinking something without knowing what is in it.
  • Drinking with the intent of getting drunk.

Unfortunately, these high risk events and behaviors get attention and are often portrayed as the epitome of the college experience. However, we know that most students do not participate in these behaviors. It is important for your student to know that drinking does not have to be part of their college experience.

You may feel that your efforts to dissuade your student from drinking are pointless since “everyone drinks in college,” but that is not true. According to Alcohol Edu, a first-year online alcohol education program, 53% of first year students had not consumed alcohol in the past year, which demonstrates that the majority of students coming to college are not drinking. At Virginia Tech, about one in four students choose not to drink at all. We support our students in continuing to remain non-drinkers, so that they can be successful during their time at Virginia Tech.

Cannabis Use Impacts

As cannabis (marijuana) becomes legal across more and more states, the misinformation about the plant and its byproducts continues to rise as well. As a result of the misinformation surrounding cannabis, we sometimes believe that it is the least harmful substance a student might use; “the lesser of the evils”. However, we know that while the outcomes of use may look different, the negative impacts can be just as significant. There has been limited research on the effects and outcomes of long-term use, nevertheless these are the facts we know so far.

  • This is not the same weed that was being smoked in the 70s. In the 1970s, the average THC was around 1 to 1.5% and in 2021, the average THC was around 15% and rising. These percentages come from cannabis that was seized by the DEA, aka illegal substances. When we look at states that have legalized cannabis, the average potency is even higher, around 22%.
  • Anything with 10 percent THC or higher is considered high potency and individuals who use high-potency cannabis are more likely to use cannabis regularly. They are also 4 times as likely to report having recently experienced problems associated with their cannabis use.
  • Cannabis has long lasting impacts, specifically on attention, concentration, and memory. For daily users or those who use 3 to 4 times a week, it takes anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks of abstaining from the drug for these brain functions to return to normal.
  • Cannabis use is strongly associated with increased risk and experiences of negative mental health outcomes such as psychotic disorders and generalized anxiety disorder. The younger an individual is at initial use of cannabis, the more likely they are to experience these adverse mental health outcomes
  • Just like any substance, you can develop both a chemical and behavioral dependence on cannabis. It is estimated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that 30% of cannabis users will develop a substance use disorder.

It is important to have a conversation with your student to help them better understand the impact that cannabis use can have on their well-being and academic performance. Consider discussing common reasons someone may choose to use, and help your student identity alternate coping strategies or activities that they can utilize during those moments. To help you better navigate a discussion with your student around cannabis, check out conversation guides available at College Parents Matter.


Virginia Tech recognizes that the misuse and abuse of alcohol is a persistent social and health problem in our society and that it interferes with the goals and objectives of educational institutions. Virginia Tech fully complies with the alcohol regulations of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and all state laws apply to Virginia Tech students and student organizations. Students or student organizations who violate the Alcoholic Beverage Policy in the Student Code of Conduct and any associated policies or guidelines will face disciplinary action. Sanctions will likely include substance related education.

Improper use of alcohol as defined by the regulations of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the university, includes but is not limited to: underage possession or consumption, public intoxication (regardless of age), providing alcohol to any underage person, or any violation of university alcohol regulations, as outlined in Appendix I: Additional Policies and Procedures Governing the Use of Alcoholic Beverages of the Student Code of Conduct.

Cannabis (Marijuana)

Effective July 1, 2021, marijuana is legal in the Commonwealth of Virginia for both recreational and medical use. As an academic community committed to well-being, Virginia Tech recognizes that using marijuana may negatively impact students’ academic performance, relationships, mental health, and career goals. It is important for students to understand the policies and laws that govern marijuana possession and use, as well as the support resources available to address negative effects and potential misuse.

Virginia law permits adults aged 21 or older to possess, use, and grow marijuana under certain circumstances; however, federal law continues to prohibit it and requires institutions of higher education that receive federal funds, including financial aid, to have policies prohibiting marijuana on university property or at university sponsored off-campus events. Therefore, Virginia Tech will enforce prohibitions of marijuana on university property and at university sponsored events off campus. Students who violate this policy will be subject to action under the Student Code of Conduct. Sanctions will likely include substance-related education.

Students at off-campus locations or properties and off-campus events that are not sponsored by the university are expected to abide by Virginia laws related to marijuana use, possession, or growth. The list below serves only as an overview; students should refer to the Code of Virginia for the most updated and accurate description of the law.

  • Legal age: legal possession, use, or cultivation is limited to adults 21 or older.
  • Quantity: individuals may not possess more than one ounce (28 grams) or the equivalent amount of another marijuana product.
  • Home growth: individuals may cultivate up to four marijuana plants. These plants must be marked and may not be visible from a public street or accessible to children.
  • Locations: use of marijuana is not permitted in public spaces or on public school grounds.
  • Selling: sales of marijuana are prohibited; however, an adult over 21 may “gift” up to one ounce to another adult over 21.
  • Driving: Using marijuana in any form is prohibited while driving or riding in a motor vehicle, as is having an “open container” of marijuana in the passenger area of the vehicle.

Self-Reporting and Bystander Intervention “Good Samaritan” Policy

Virginia Tech recognizes that the health and safety of students is of utmost importance. If students require assistance for themselves or others because of alcohol or drug use, we want them to call for help. If medical assistance is sought, Student Conduct will not pursue conduct charges against the individual or organization who sought assistance, or the individual in need of assistance.

Read the full policy.

Importance of Parent and Family Conversations

Family beliefs, values, and norms are the most influential factors in reducing your students’ risk for drinking and other substance misuse. Having conversations the summer before students leave for college is the most effective way to prevent or reduce your student’s alcohol use. You do not need to be an expert on this topic. You simply need to be willing to check in with your student, communicate your values around high-risk drinking, and be open and available for this type of conversation.

Preparing for the Conversation

  • Reflect on your personal feelings about alcohol and other drug use.
  • Understand the power of your influence – parent and family disapproval of drinking decreases the likelihood that their student will participate in high-risk drinking.
  • Avoid generalized statements like “everyone in college drinks.” Instead, focus on facts that allow for a variety of conversational paths.
  • Consider questions to ask your student before the conversation begins so that you can explore an assortment of scenarios and decision-making opportunities together.
  • Remember that this is a conversation, not a lecture, and that it should be an ongoing dialogue that continues throughout your student’s college years.

Starting the Conversation

Having an open and honest conversation with your student about substance use can be challenging or awkward to start, especially if this is your first time talking to your student about these topics. That is why it is so important to set aside a specific time when both of you are ready and open to talk.

When it is time to have the conversation, create a judgement free space where your student can honestly share any questions or concerns they have about going to college and being exposed to drinking culture on campus. Be prepared to ask open ended questions to continue the conversation.

As a parent, guardian, or family member, a zero-tolerance message is essential. No alcohol is best, and certainly not excessive amounts even when your student is of legal age to drink. We recognize that everyone has different parenting styles and setting this type of expectation may or may not fall within that realm. However, your student needs to understand clearly where you stand on this topic as it can have a powerful impact on if, when, where, and how they choose to drink.

While you can absolutely discuss the serious harms and consequences that can result from excessive drinking, it is actually more effective to mention the less severe outcomes, like doing something reckless that could be embarrassing or lead to a bad reputation. Focusing on your student’s long term academic, social, or financial goals can also be a useful strategy when discussing the impacts of drinking. Research shows that students who engage in excessive drinking are more likely to have lower GPAs, are less likely to graduate, accept less prestigious jobs, and face lower lifetime earnings.

Many students don’t understand or underestimate the impact that alcohol has on their body. It is essential that you talk to your student about the effects of alcohol to help them realize what actually happens when they drink. By helping them understand the effects, they can make safer decisions if they choose to drink. They may abstain completely if the effects do not contribute to their goals. Review our Alcohol Resources page before talking with your student to learn about blood alcohol concentration (BAC), impairment, factors that affect BAC, and more. This is also a great resource to share with your student.

We know that some students choose to drink, especially within the first few weeks of school, because they feel that it is the only way to connect and find friends. We encourage you to talk about different ways your student can meet people in a substance-free environment. Exploring Weeks of Welcome and GobblerConnect are a great place to start. Make sure to discuss how to say no to peer pressure to drink and help your student learn to redirect conversations around “going out for a drink” to other activities where alcohol will not be present.

Continuing the Conversation

It is vital that you have conversations with your student about substance use before they go to college, but the dialogue shouldn’t end there. Continue the discussion with your student by checking in with them throughout the semester. We encourage conversations that naturally allow for your student to share their experiences and concerns around drinking. For example, instead of directly asking “Have you been drinking in your residence hall?” try asking “How has your experience has been living in the residence hall?” or “What do students on your hall do for fun?” This allows a more organic transition to the topic of alcohol.

Your student will experience a variety of “high risk events” during their time at Virginia Tech and it is important that you discuss with them how to navigate those occasions. Some high-risk events include:

  • Fall tailgates.
  • Halloween celebrations.
  • Finals stress.
  • Spring Break activities.
  • 4/20 (April 20, an unofficial cannabis use “holiday”).

Stay connected to the Hokie Family Hub newsletter for monthly tips on how to navigate these event specific conversations.

There are many resources available at Virginia Tech to support our students in all areas of well-being. As you are having conversations with your student, connect them with these resources for additional support.

Hokie Wellness

The Hokie Wellness team offers a variety of educational services and provides programming and resources which enhance the health and well-being of all Hokies by focusing on physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and financial well-being. We strive to educate and empower every Hokie to take an active and engaging day-to-day approach to their wellness in order to enjoy a long, healthful, and purpose-filled life.

  • Individual Consultations: Hokie Wellness provides one-on-one consultations for those students who would like to make changes to their alcohol or cannabis use.
  • Recovery Community: The Virginia Tech Recovery Community works to ensure that students do not have to choose between their recovery and their education. We support students inside and outside the classroom, organize events and trips, and provide space for recovery meetings. Anyone is welcome to our meetings to find out more.

Residential Well-being

Every student living on campus has access to a Well-being Coordinator and Case Manager in their residential district who can provide additional education and support related to substance use and connect them directly to resources.

Additionally, Cook Counseling has a team of Embedded Counselors dedicated to serving the students living on campus. As an extension of Cook Counseling, the Embedded Counselors provide outreach, crisis response, drop-in consultation, and short-term individual and group counseling support at specified locations in residence halls throughout evening hours. You can find the RWB Embedded Counselors in East Eggleston between the hours of 2-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Fridays.

Cook Counseling Center

Promotes student learning, development, retention, and holistic well-being by providing resources for improving mental health and identifying psychological barriers to academic success. They support these efforts through educational programming and individual, group, crisis, and psychiatric services. TimelyCare, a 24/7 service that connects students to counsellors through the app or website, provides immediate emotional support, scheduled counseling, health coaching, and well-being sessions. 

Schiffert Health Center

Schiffert Health Center offers designated clinics and services that are cost effective and responsive to student needs so as to reduce the impact of illness and other health concerns which may interfere with student success at Virginia Tech.

Dean of Students Office

The Dean of Students Office works with students, families, friends, staff, and faculty to support Virginia Tech students in any situation. If you don’t know where to start, start with the Dean of Students Office.