School Performance Predicts Future Drug Use
> 5/22/2008 2:21:00 PM


It will come as little surprise to most that students’ school performance is often hindered by drug use. However, parents will likely be more surprised that school performance itself can be predictive of future drug use. This correlation was first explored by researchers from the University of Michigan in their 2007 book, The Education-Drug Use Connection: How Success and Failures in School Related to Adolescent Smoking, Drinking, Drug Use, and Delinquency. The essential thrust of the research is that high-performance in school may actually be protective. When students are younger, the number that use any types of drugs are low, but as students age and opportunities to use substances do emerge, earlier performance appears to be a strong predictor of who will use and who will abstain.

The researchers behind this analysis reached their conclusion after conducting a longitudinal study, which first surveyed a group of roughly 3,000 students as eighth graders in 1991, '92 and '93, and then surveyed the same group every two years. The strongest link between grades and drug use found performance to be more directly correlated with cigarette smoking than alcohol or illicit drug abuse. By the age of 14, more than one-quarter of students with grade averages of D or lower had become daily smokers, while almost none of their A-student peers had picked up the habit. By the age of 22, the numbers became more pronounced, with a quarter of the A students smoking and nearly half of the formerly low-performing kids addicted to tobacco.

Alcohol is slightly more problematic because throughout high school, poorly performing students will use at much higher rates, but as students transition into college where most students are high performing, rates of alcohol abuse tend to even out between the groups. College is a setting where alcohol abuse is fostered and even encouraged in some settings, but once these students leave school and enter the workforce the correlations between earlier school performance and alcohol abuse shift back, with college grads less likely to drink to excess than those with no college experience.

More than anything, this line of research points to the importance of establishing strong academic standards early in life. While many factors eventually will influence an individual’s decision to engage in drug use, classroom performance, and specifically high achievement in the classroom, appears to correlate with low drug use in such a way as to make it an excellent candidate for increased focus. Education performance is an area of a child’s life on which parents can have a large influence. By establishing a culture of inquisitiveness and interest in learning, parents can put their kids on a path to not only succeeding in school, but also to staying away from drugs and alcohol in the future.

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