Although the association between substance use and academic performance has been on the radar of researchers for quite some time, what is under-recognized by researchers and policy makers alike is the contribution of substance use to poor academic performance.
This distinction is important because it tells us that doing something about substance use is a viable option for improving academic performance. Because we know that almost one-quarter of students will eventually drop out of high school, we need to add drug prevention and intervention to the list of things we can do to solve the nation’s dropout crisis.
Earlier this year, the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc. released a report about the connection between adolescent substance use and the risk for dropout in the U.S. The following conclusions were made:
• There is compelling evidence that the association of academic difficulties and substance use is bidirectional. In some individuals, academic difficulties precede the onset of substance use, and in those cases, a vicious cycle can ensue—leading to even more severe academic difficulties and eventual dropout. In other cases, even controlling for individual background characteristics, substance use precedes and contributes to academic failure and dropout, especially when substance use is frequent and severe.
• There is general agreement about the biological, social, and environmental mechanisms that explain the link between substance use, academic failure, and dropout.
• Adolescents who are at risk for academic failure or have dropped out of school are likely to have substance use problems in combination with an array of other problem behaviors that, if not addressed, place them at extremely high risk for costly long-term adversity, including unemployment, crime, and poor health.
• Little is being done to screen for substance use in pediatric and educational settings, and even less is being done to address escalating substance use problems among adolescents at risk for dropout or those who have already dropped out of high school.
• Of all the problems that contribute to dropping out, substance use is one of the easiest to identify and one of the most easily stopped by interventions including treatment.
• Research evidence shows that when adolescents stop substance use, academic performance improves.
The report is available at: http://preventteendruguse.org/pdfs/AmerDropoutCrisis.pdf.