Adolescent, Experimental Drug Use May Not Be All Bad, Study Suggests

The idea that using drugs and alcohol can improve a person’s chances of success later in life seems absurd. However, according to data from a recent study conducted by Michelle M. Englund of the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, teens who experiment with drugs and alcohol are more likely to have higher educations and stable romances in early adulthood than teens who abstain. Englund surveyed 159 teens, all born as first children to low-income families. When they were 17-and-a-half, the teens were enrolled into substance-abuse interventions depending on how often they used drugs and alcohol. Englund then evaluated their outcomes in various areas, including work, education, intimate relationships, and overall adjustment, when they reached age 26.

Surprisingly, Englund found that the teens who experimented with drugs and alcohol achieved better outcomes on all measures when compared with those who never used, those who abused, and those who engaged in at-risk use. The findings suggest that substance-use levels have very different effects on life outcomes. Although the fact experimenters fared better than abstainers may seem strange, Englund believes that this pattern supports theories of normal adolescent development. Another interesting discovery was that the at-risk users achieved similar educational outcomes as the experimenters, which exceeded those of both the abstainers and abusers. One explanation for this could be that these individuals developed a strong academic foundation before they used drugs and alcohol, giving them an educational advantage over the other groups.

The results of this study cast a new light on the long-term effects of drug use at varying levels, but the sample size was relatively small. Because of this, the subgroups of various drug-use levels were even smaller, which could limit the findings. Englund hopes that future research draws on a broader sample in order to get a more substantial view of the varying rates of drug and alcohol use among teens and the long-term effects they have. But she believes that, for now, her findings show that some levels of drug and alcohol use may not result in negative outcomes for all users. “Overall, the results of this study suggest that experimentation with substances may be not only normative in adolescence but also predictive of developmental competence in early adulthood,” Englund said.

Englund, M. M., Siebenbruner, J., Oliva, E. M., Egeland, B., Chung, C.-T., Long, J. D. (2012). The developmental significance of late adolescent substance use for early adult functioning. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030229

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  • Kim

    October 24th, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    But if you advocate for experimental drug usage, then how can you be sure that this will not cross the line into abuse? How do you prevent that? I too agree that experimenting could be the answer, but if someone is predisposed to becoming an addict, then how do you draw that line so that they don’t fall into that danger of crossing over into addiction?

  • Drew

    October 24th, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Trying drugs is so different from using and abusing drugs.While there is always curiosity in teens to try newer things including drugs,it should never be mistaken for regular suage.

    Now the good performance of those that tried drugs in the study is not due to drugs of course.It was because they were individuals who could resist regular usage and only tried out of inquisitiveness.Had they become regular users,they would not fall under the category of good performers,now,would they?!

  • Carson Bagwell

    October 24th, 2012 at 11:37 AM

    I find the suggestion that this is even remotely acceptable or safe to be totally irresponsible

  • Beth d

    October 24th, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    I am shocked at the findings!

    Are you sure this was conducted by reputable scientists or just a bunch of people who want to find a way to justify drug use? lol

    Seriously I would have never thought that I would read that we are actually to start encouraging leisurely drug use. This certainly goes against the whole Just Say No mentality that we have spouted for the past 30 years!

  • matthew

    October 25th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    Hey I dabbled here and there in high school and college, and I tend to think that later on this made me a little less curious.
    I knoew what drugs made me feel like and I also learned fairly quickly that although the experience could be fun, I also learned that I was not going to be taken seriously as a student or a businessman with this monkey on my back. So I gave it up. And it was easier to do once I knew what it was like and didn’t have those questions anymore.

  • danny

    October 25th, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    it’s all fun and games until someone loses … Control. The thing about drugs is its just so easy to lose control. You’ll never know when it the drug stopped being in your control and you started to come under the control of the drug. I would never want my kids to even experiment with drugs.

  • Helen

    October 25th, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    Totally agree with Danny.
    Everything is great until someone gets hurt and like he said there is never any predictor for that.

  • Claire t

    October 26th, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    nancy Reagan would be devastated

  • Dane

    October 28th, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    How on earth could you seriously report this? I mean, come on. We all know the dangers of early drug use and abuse- so there are some kids that don’t get hooked but what about the 1000s who do? Are their lives so disposable that we think that it is now okay to tell them come on, use drugs, it won’t be all that bad for you. This is so irresponsible that it sickens me. I have seen the dangers of drug use, heck I have lived it. It was hard for me to stop, but I did it. It isn’t something that I would wish for anyone and here you are encouraging it.

  • bert

    October 29th, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    It could be that using just a little takes away the curiosity so much, and then they see that it’s really not all it’s cracked up to be so that takes away some of that desire to try. It’s like the parents who let their kids drink at their houses so they won’t be out drinking and driving. I know that these parents are made out to be pariahs but I can see the reasoning behind it.

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