Teenagers involved in polydrug use have a substantially lower chance of finishing high school than their counterparts who don’t use drugs, according to new findings from a multinational research team. Polydrug users, also known as polysubstance users, seriously increase their exposure to substance-related harm by consuming two or more types of substances in a very narrow timeframe.
In a study published in January 2015 in the journal Addiction, a group of Australian and American researchers gauged the impact that a pattern of polydrug use has on the odds that any given teenager will graduate from high school. These researchers also looked at the graduation-related impact of isolated teen alcohol use.
Teens And Substance Use
The National Institute on Drug Abuse uses a University of Michigan-led project called Monitoring the Future to follow and analyze current patterns of substance use in all U.S. teenagers enrolled in the 12th grade, 10th grade or eighth grade. The most recent figures from this project cover the calendar year 2014.
In that year, almost a quarter of all 12th graders (23.7 percent) consumed some sort of illicit or illegal drug at least once a month. By far the most widely used drug among America’s high school seniors was marijuana. In 2014, more than a third of all 12th graders (37.4 percent) consumed alcohol at least once a month. Almost a quarter of all seniors (23.5 percent) consumed enough alcohol to get drunk one or more times in the typical month.
Tenth and eighth graders had a substantially lower rate of monthly participation in drug or alcohol use than their older counterparts. They also got drunk less often. Broadly speaking, 10th graders occupied a middle ground of drug use, alcohol use and drunkenness between 12th graders and eighth graders. Eighth graders had much lower risks for substance use than older teenagers but still got involved in such use with some frequency. Among all three grades, the overall rates of monthly drug use, alcohol use and drunkenness fell between 2013 and 2014 (in some cases by a statistically meaningful amount).
About Polydrug Use
At its core, polydrug use includes the simultaneous or near-simultaneous consumption of any substance capable of meaningfully altering the normal function of the human brain or body. However, in the context of substance abuse and/or substance addiction, health professionals commonly use the term to describe the combined or overlapping use of mind-altering substances capable of producing addiction-supporting changes in normal brain function.
Polydrug use greatly increases the dangers of substance intake by doing such things as fostering known dangerous interactions between two or more substances, fostering unknown or unpredictable substance interactions and increasing the odds that any given user will develop serious substance problems or die.
Polydrug Use And High School Graduation
In the study published in the journal Addiction, researchers from five Australian universities and the University of Washington used a long-term project involving Australian schoolchildren to gauge the effect that polydrug use has on the odds that a teenager will complete high school. A total of 2,287 adolescents took part in this project.
At the beginning of their involvement, all of the individuals were age 14 or 15 and enrolled in the ninth grade. In addition to the combined or overlapping consumption of alcohol, marijuana/cannabis and cigarettes/tobacco, the researchers considered potential factors in the high school graduation rate that included the isolated use of alcohol or other substances, as well as gender, relative success in school, the lack or presence of substance use among close peers, socioeconomic background, mental health and the health of parent-child relationships.
The researchers divided the study participants into three groups: teens who mostly consumed alcohol (61.6 percent of all individuals), teens who didn’t use any substances (31.7 percent of all individuals), and teens involved in polydrug use (6.5 percent of all individuals). After analyzing all of the variables under consideration, they concluded that taking part in polydrug use decreases a teen’s chances of graduating from high school by roughly 150 percent.
In addition, the researchers concluded that alcohol-consuming teens reduce their chances of graduating by about 54 percent. These findings hold true even when all other contributing risk factors for failing to complete high school are taken into account. While the study’s results may not completely apply to American teenagers, similarities between Australian culture and American culture may make the researchers’ findings quite relevant for U.S. adolescent populations.
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