Substance Abuse at School May Mean Other Problems

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Teen marijuana and alcohol use at school may indicate need for mental health screening

May 3, 2014 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Although it's no secret that teens may experiment with alcohol or marijuana, more than 5 percent of them smoke pot or drink alcohol on school campuses.

Yet using marijuana or alcohol at school may indicate deeper problems for students, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that teens using marijuana or alcohol at school were more likely to have experienced a range of other difficulties, including depression, sexual or relationship violence and suicide attempts.

The authors of this study suggested that teens found using marijuana or alcohol on campus be screened for mental health concerns and other health risks.

"Check in with your teens' mental health."

This study, led by Rebecca Dudovitz, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children's Hospital at the University of California, Los Angeles, looked at the prevalence of health risks among teens who used alcohol or marijuana at school.

The researchers analyzed the data from 15,698 high school students from the 2011 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey.

After taking into account differences among the students in terms of age and race/ethnicity, the researchers calculated whether students using marijuana or alcohol at school were more likely than other students to have experienced the following:

  • exposure to drunk driving
  • fighting
  • carrying a weapon to school
  • engaging in substance abuse while having sex
  • experiencing dating violence
  • being raped
  • having symptoms of depression
  • thinking about committing suicide
  • attempting suicide

The researchers found that students using alcohol or marijuana at school were more likely to have experienced all those risks than students not using drugs or alcohol at school.

In particular, boys who used marijuana or alcohol at school, more so than girls, were more likely to have been involved in fighting or to have been forced to have sex than students who did not use marijuana or alcohol at school.

The likelihood of a student having experienced one of these health risks ranged from 23 percent to 69 percent among those using marijuana or alcohol at school.

The risk of depression, for example, among users at school was 46 percent.

And, there was a 25 percent chance that users at school had experienced dating violence within the past year or had attempted suicide within the past year.

"Students found using alcohol or marijuana at school should be immediately and carefully screened for other serious health risks that pose significant dangers, as this may represent a critical opportunity to identify troubled youth," the researchers wrote.

This study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and its findings should be interpreted with caution.

The research was presented May 3 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

This study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Short Term Training Program through the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the UCLA Children's Discovery and Innovation Institute and NIH/National Center for Advancing Translational Science.

No information regarding disclosures or possible conflicts of interest were available.