Teens who experiment with alcohol or drugs are considered by experts to have experienced “early initiation.” Early initiation is an important focus for those who develop strategies to reduce substance abuse. Teens that begin using alcohol or drugs are at an increased risk for addiction when compared with those who wait to try substances in adulthood.
Targeting At-Risk Students For Addiction Intervention And Prevention
However, some teens appear to experiment with drugs and alcohol and go on to adulthood unscathed. Understanding why for some students alcohol and drug use remains experimental, while others go on to develop an addiction, is an important step for targeting the most at-risk students for intervention and prevention efforts.
Substance abuse is also associated with other problems, such as academic underachievement and disciplinary issues. Determining whether a cause-and-effect relationship exists is often difficult. It may be challenging to identify whether alcohol or drugs leads to other problems or if the substances are a way of self-medicating against negative circumstances or mental health issues.
An article appearing in Daily Rx highlights the problems that can occur when drug or alcohol use is done on campus. A study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, finds that approximately 5 percent of teens experimenting with alcohol or marijuana do so on campus.
At Home Problems That Coincide With Substance Use At School
The study finds that using marijuana or alcohol at school may be an indicator that there are additional problems. Those who use substances at school are more likely to have a history of other difficulties, such as depression, sexual violence and suicide attempts.
The researchers, led by Rebecca Dudovitz, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, say that the findings support the use of mental health screenings at school.
When a student is discovered using substances on campus, say the authors, the student should be thoroughly screened for not only mental health problems, but for all the problems shown by the study to be associated with school marijuana and alcohol use.
The study included data from 15,698 high school students, taken from the 2011 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey. The researchers accounted for age and race/ethnicity and then analyzed whether students who used alcohol or marijuana at school were at an increased risk for other negative consequences.
The researchers found that the students who used alcohol or marijuana were more likely to have had experience with drunk driving, sexual violence, carrying a weapon at school, depression or suicidal ideation, compared with students who did not use drugs or alcohol.
Boys were more at risk than girls. Boys who used marijuana or alcohol at school were more likely than girls to have been involved in a fight or to have been forced into sex when compared with those that did not use alcohol or marijuana at school.
The increased risk for these circumstances ranged from 23 percent to 69 percent for students who used marijuana or alcohol at school. Among the users, there was a 46 percent risk of depression and a 25 percent risk of exposure to dating violence or attempted suicide in the past 12 months.
Mental Health Screening For Substance-Abusing Teens
The authors say that the serious risks associated with substance use at school strongly suggest the use of screening for mental health and other risks when a student is discovered to be using alcohol or marijuana on campus.
The article cautions that the findings were presented at a recent meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Vancouver, Canada, but the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.