Substance Abuse & School Drop Outs

Alcohol abuse ranks as a higher predictor than drug abuse for school dropout

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

(RxWiki News) Conflicting evidence makes it tough to know exactly why some kids drop out of school because of drinking and drugs and other kids stick with it. Alcohol may be riskier than smoking pot when it comes to drop out rates.

Researchers study twins with tuition assistance to isolate factors that contribute to drop out rates.

Early drinking and alcoholism may be the biggest predictors to discontinued education.

"Talk to your kids about the dangers of substance abuse"

Julia D. Grant PhD., professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine, and her team of researchers looked at the factors that contribute to substance abuse and staying in school.

If some people who drink alcohol and use drugs can make it through college, then there is more to dropping out of school than just the use of drugs and alcohol. According to Grant, “Evidence for an association between substance use/abuse/dependence and reduced educational attainment is mixed.”

What the researchers are looking for is an answer to ‘why’ substance abuse can cause some kids to drop out of school.

Matt McGue PhD., professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota says, “…what is missing is an explanation for the basis of the association [of substance use and education]. We might consider two possibilities. One, adolescent substance use results in diminished educational achievement because substance use is neurotoxic to the developing adolescent brain [causes brain damage], or because adolescents who use substances have experiences that reduce the likelihood they will pursue higher education.”

For the study Grant’s team looked at 3,121 pairs of twin males that served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam conflict. The totaling 6,242 people were eligible for G.I. tuition benefits, therefore eliminating financial reasons for not continuing their education. They were given a questionnaire in 1987 and then a phone interview in 1992, when the average age of the men was 41.9 years.

The line of determining staying in school was 16 years or more completed. In twin pairs where one twin continued with education and one did not the top three reasons were: drinking alcohol before the age of 18, diagnosed with alcoholism, and being a daily cigarette smoker.

According to Grant, “It is possible that early alcohol use and alcohol dependence impede [get in the way of] later educational attainment. Possible mechanisms for this include cognitive and motivational changes stemming from early alcohol use/dependence that hinder academic success. Although daily nicotine is not likely to impair cognitive functioning, it may lead to motivational changes that affect academic performance.”

96.2 percent of the whole group had ever consumed alcohol, and 25.8 percent drank alcohol before the age of 18. 34.9 percent were alcohol dependent and 47.4 percent were nicotine dependent. 24.1 percent completed 16 or more years of education.

McGue states, “In this study, they conclude that within twin pairs discordant for adolescent substance abuse [one twin used and the other didn’t], the unexposed twin was more likely to complete college than his exposed [co]twin.”

This means that genetics and environment aren’t the determining factor in dropping out, but rather personality.

This study will be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER), August 2012. Research was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Institutes of Health, no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 13, 2012
Last Updated:
July 9, 2012