Improving Self-Management May Decrease Substance Use in Adolescents

The majority of people who use substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs usually do so for the first time during adolescence. If they continue to use, studies show that they increase their risk for negative outcomes and put themselves at increased tendency toward sexual promiscuity, poor academic achievement, impulsivity, driving under the influence, legal problems, diminished judgment, risky behaviors, sexually transmitted diseases, and unintended pregnancies. Therefore, understanding what can protect adolescents from initiating substance use, and what promotes it, is critical to the prevention of it.

Sarah R. Lowe of the Psychiatric Epidemiology Training Program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York recently led a study that looked at how specific self-management skills, including self-control and reinforcement, grades, and gender influenced substance use rates and trajectories among a sample of 1,756 black and Hispanic students in grades 7 through 11. Lowe followed their use over a four year period and found that substance use increased for all the participants during the study period. However, the students who began using in 7th grade had more gradual increases in use than those who started later. Lowe believes this could be due to a ceiling effect found in earlier users, suggesting that interventions should not only be focused on the age of the substance user, but also the course of their use.

Lowe also discovered that students with the lowest grades had the highest rates of substance use, and also had the poorest levels of self-management. It is unclear based on these results if self-management influences the grades directly, or if the grades influence the self-management, and how substance use is integrated into these two factors. These findings do provide evidence that students with low academic performance, poor self-control, and poor self-management skills, are more vulnerable to substance use than their more academically successful peers. This study also suggests that this is especially prevalent in male students. This knowledge will be critical for the development of new intervention efforts. Lowe added, “The results suggest that the extent to which interventions can build self-management skills, and identify youth who lack them early on, the more they can prevent substance-use initiation and escalation.”

Sarah, R. Lowe, et al. Longitudinal relationships between self-management skills and substance use in an urban sample of predominantly minority adolescents. Journal of Drug Issues 43.1 (2013): 103-18. ProQuest Family Health; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

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  • Tyler


    March 5th, 2013 at 10:26 PM

    Self management or rather the lack of it could be a reason for substance abuse in the first place.It is easy to find drug users whose life is in a disarray who have issues in various aspects but could their problems be the very reason for the drug use?quite possible.So it is a cycle where one promotes the other and the abyss just gets deeper.An intervention should focus on stopping both ends because stopping just one end is probably not long to work.

  • natalie


    March 6th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    Am I being snarky by saying that I read nothing in this article that gives me that aha or wow moment. I think that all of this is just as has always been suspected. Students with low grades tend to have a higher proabbility of using, and if they mix that with poor self esteem and low self management skills, then their chances for abusing drugs will increase even more. The one thing that did jump out at me however is the need to do earlier interventions with students who are at risk or beginning to use drugs and alcohol as a means for fitting in or coping. The earlier that these interventions are stagd then the greater the chance that we will have for them to become habitual users. Time to stop turning the blind eye to this increasing problems among younger age groups.

  • herbert


    March 6th, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    this is like saying if you do drugs you cannot manage anything about your life. there are so many people who have done drugs in the past and have gone on to achieve great things. why there have even been instances of people using drugs fro creativity and other things that has helped them. there are people who are bad at managing the self and they do drugs but it cannot be held as a definitive trait.

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