Teens who drop out of high school are more likely to have substance use issues than those who stay in high school until graduation. However, the exact relationship between drug use and dropout rates is unclear. Some believe that drug use is a symptom of other issues, such as domestic abuse, neglect, maltreatment, or other childhood adversities. The subsequent drug use then affects academic performance, which decreases self-esteem and worth, making at-risk teens more susceptible to dropping out. Others believe that childhood problems themselves predispose children for early discontinuation of higher learning and that any drug use would not increase or decrease the odds of a child dropping out of high school. To clarify this phenomenon, Joseph Gasper, Ph.D., a Research Associate at Westat in Rockville, Maryland, conducted a study on 11,395 students who were part of the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS). The participants were examined for academic performance, drug use, and childhood adversity in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades.
Gasper found that the participants who had poorer grades, engaged in disruptive and risky behavior, and smoked cigarettes in 8th grade were more likely to use illegal drugs in the 10th grade than those who did not engage in any of those negative behaviors. Additionally, removing all other risk factors, the students who dropped out were 10% more likely to have used cannabis in the month prior than those who did not drop out. High school dropouts are at increased risk for several negative life consequences, including lower earnings, unemployment, incarceration, early pregnancy, public assistance reliance, and even shorter life expectancy than those who receive a high school diploma. The overall impact of not receiving a high school diploma is significant. “For these reasons, it may be prudent for dropout prevention efforts to focus on early interventions in middle and even elementary school,” said Gasper. He believes that the findings of his study will help clinicians and educational professionals better identify those individuals at risk for dropping out. He added, “Such interventions should be aimed at interrupting or preventing the downward cycle of maladaptation to failure that culminates in disengagement, problem behaviors, drug use, and eventually, dropping out.”
Gasper, J. Revisiting the Relationship Between Adolescent Drug Use and High School Dropout. Journal of Drug Issues 41.1 (2011): 587-618. Print.
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