Poor Grades Cause Girls to Turn to Alcohol

Maintaining a high grade point average (GPA) is just one of the stressors that adolescents struggle with.  How teens handle the issues they face during this emotional time is of concern to some researchers. “Indeed, school achievement is a central normative pursuit for many teens, but adolescence is also a critical stage in the development of alcohol use and depressed mood,” said Nathan D. Shippee of the Mayo Clinic and lead author of a recent study examining the effects of academic stress and gender on alcohol use among teens. “According to general strain theory (GST), the links between achievement, distress, and alcohol/substance use are multifaceted and dynamic. Strain arising from negative relationships and experiences can lead to various types of coping strategies, including behavioral or emotional responses.” The average teen begins drinking by age 14 and more than half of teenagers have already gotten drunk one time by the age of 18. Shippee said, “Thus, teen drinking may function as behavioral coping and compensation for negative experiences; that is, strain may affect drinking frequency directly, rather than operating via increased distress.”

Shippee analyzed data collected from 856 students. The data had been gathered from annual surveys taken each year during the teens’ high school experience, beginning in 1988. His study revealed some significant differences between how the boys and girls coped. “Results implicated behavioral and emotional coping as distinct, parallel mechanisms linking strain, distress, and drinking, and furthermore indicated that girls may be especially vulnerable in these associations (possibly due to their socialization experiences).” The findings also directly linked lower grades to increased drinking. “Perhaps the most telling empirical and theoretical finding appeared in the causal chain of GPA and depression on drinking, and GPA, drinking and GPA on depression, and so on among girls throughout high school,” said Shippee. “It would appear that the GPA-depression-drinking nexus, although modest, appears as a consequential and potentially harmful cycle for girls.”

Shippee, Nathan D., and Timothy J. Owens. “GPA, DEPRESSION, AND DRINKING: A LONGITUDINAL COMPARISON OF HIGH SCHOOL BOYS AND GIRLS.”Sociological Perspectives 54.3 (2011): 351-76. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Katherine


    November 2nd, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    Alcohol-that’s the solution to everything isn’t it? At least that’s what some people might want you to believe. I have worked with a lot of young people and if there is one thing they all agree upon it is this-the belief that alcohol can be the answer to drown any kind of a problem.

    What they don’t get is that although it may temporarily rid them of a problem, it presents them with its own problem which is often bigger than the problem they began with! When this sense of how alcohol works is understood by our young people that will be the day we will stop seeing this sort of a ‘coping’ technique being employed by them!

  • Holly d

    Holly d

    November 2nd, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    And where are these girls getting the idea that drinking is a solution to the problem? To me it seems like if they are so smart they will see that this is only going to contribute to the problem, not solve it.

  • Sandra


    November 3rd, 2011 at 4:30 AM

    Girls feel this pressure to be perfect- in how they look, how they dress, and how they perform in school. Why not think some about ways we can relieve that pressure by teaching them healthy ways to deal with stress? I never was given a lesson in something like this, but maybe now is the time to start looking at a way to offer this to our girls. They should not have to deal with all of this stress from such a young age. Look at the problems that this is causing them now! And think about the choices that they may make as a result, harmful choices that could have horrible consequences for them as they go off to college and maybe even past that. We can’t continue to recognize that there is a problem here yet continue to do nothing about it.

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