Drinking Makes Teens Feel Isolated

Alcohol abuse can create a gap between peers in school resulting in bad grades

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) In schools where drinking isn’t something everyone does, those who do drink can often feel outcast. This isolation can cause grades to slip over time.

A recent study gives evidence that alcohol itself isn’t the only factor in lowered grades in teens. Socio-emotional disrupt, or loneliness, from drinking is a factor in lowering grades.

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Aprile Benner, PhD, assistant professor of human ecology at the University of Texas at Austin, Robert Crosnoe PhD, research affiliate alongside Brenner at University of Texas, and Barbara Schneider, PhD, professor of sociology and education at Michigan State University, teamed up to investigate the social results of alcohol abuse in teens.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) started collecting data in 1994 on health-related behavior from adolescents between grades 7 and 12. Connected to Add Health is the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement transcript study, which also contributed data to the study.

Add Health provided data on 8,271 adolescents from 126 schools for Brenner and Schneider’s study. The study results suggested that there are links between kids' feelings of loneliness and not fitting in and drinking alcohol.

These links were strongest at schools where most groups of teens did not drink, making self-reported drinkers the minority.

Crosnoe states: “This finding doesn’t imply that drinkers would be better off in schools in which peer networks are tightly organized around drinking. Instead, the results suggest that we need to pay attention to youth in problematic school environments in general but also to those who may have trouble in seemingly positive school environments.”

Once race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status were adjusted for in the statistical analysis the researchers began to look at the student’s grades. Feelings of loneliness and isolation were directly linked to lowered grade point average; to put a numerical value to it, three-tenths of a grade point average declining every single year.

Socio-emotional development is how children and adolescents learn to trust, communicate, work well and get along with others, develop loyalties and supportive behavior. Being accepted into a peer group is integral to socio-emotional development, without which gaining valuable emotional intelligence can be difficult.

Authors of the study note: “Socio-emotional problems did not predict increased drinking over time, but drinking predicted declining socio-emotional functioning…”

Crosnoe adds: “In general, adolescents who feel as though they don’t fit in at school often struggle academically, even when capable and even when peers value academic success, because they became more focused on their social circumstances than their social and academic activities.”

“Given that social development is a crucial component of schooling, it’s important to connect these social and emotional experiences of drinking to how teenagers are doing academically.”

The results of this study have been used to influence policy and approach to nonacademic parts of school life and development to help kids do their best in school.

This study was published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, June 2012. Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 17, 2012
Last Updated:
November 2, 2012