Early substance use linked to lower educational achievement

May 17, 2012 By Jim Dryden
Credit: iStockphoto

(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers have found evidence that early drug and alcohol use is associated with lower levels of educational attainment.

Studying male twins who served in the military during the Vietnam era, they found that those who began drinking or using drugs as or who became dependent on alcohol, or , were less likely to finish college than those who didn’t use alcohol or drugs until later in life and never became dependent.

The study, by investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System, will be published in the August 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research but is now available online.

“We can’t say that substance dependence or early substance use causes lower educational achievement, but we do see a strong association,” says lead author Julia D. Grant, PhD, research assistant professor of psychiatry. “Even after we statistically controlled for the genes and the environmental factors that twins share, we found a relationship between substance use and educational achievement.”

The video will load shortly.

Past studies about the relationship between substance use and education have delivered mixed results. But this study of 6,242 twins shows a link between fewer years of schooling and the onset of drinking before age 14.

“Studying identical and fraternal twin pairs is useful for examining things like substance use and education because we can asses the extent to which a given behavior is influenced by genetic factors and by factors related to family and environment,” Grant says. “Since identical twins share all of their genes and fraternal share about half, we can set up statistical comparisons to tease many of those factors apart.”

In the analysis, Grant’s group found that when men in the study began to drink or use drugs early in their teen years or if they became a addict or alcoholic, they were less likely to complete 16 years of education. 

In addition, she says the men in the study were surveyed when most were in their late 30s of early 40s, a point in their lives where it was less likely they would further their education.

Veterans, she says, were a particularly good group to follow because it is rare for anyone to serve in the military without finishing high school or earning a GED. In addition, because of the G.I. Bill, veterans are less likely to have financial constraints that would prevent them from attending college.

Grant says the findings provide more evidence that early drug and alcohol use is associated with a large number of problems later in life.

“Drugs and alcohol affect many lifetime milestones such as marriage, parenthood and employment, which are closely linked to education,” she says. “These events in later life all are influenced by early substance use, and this study provides further evidence that as a society, we need to continue our public-health efforts to reduce underage drinking, smoking and use of drugs.”

Explore further: Substance use reduces educational achievement even when educational benefits are assured

More information: Grant JD, et al. Associations of alcohol, nicotine, cannabis and drug use/dependence with educational attainment: evidence from cotwin-control analyses. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, Early View vol. 36 (8), August 2012.

Related Stories

Substance use reduces educational achievement even when educational benefits are assured

May 15, 2012
Although various kinds of substance use are associated with reduced educational attainment, these associations have been mixed and may also be partially due to risk factors such as socioeconomic disadvantages. A study of ...

Family relationships may protect early teens from alcohol use

June 7, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Close family relationships may protect teenagers from alcohol use, according to research by The University of Queensland’s Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research (CYSAR) and the Centre for Adolescent ...

Recommended for you

Experts devise plan to slash unnecessary medical testing

October 17, 2017
Researchers at top hospitals in the U.S. and Canada have developed an ambitious plan to eliminate unnecessary medical testing, with the goal of reducing medical bills while improving patient outcomes, safety and satisfaction.

New study: Nearly half of US medical care comes from emergency rooms

October 17, 2017
Nearly half of all US medical care is delivered by emergency departments, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). And in recent years, the percentage of care delivered ...

No evidence that widely marketed technique to treat leaky bladder/prolapse works

October 16, 2017
There is no scientific evidence that a workout widely marketed to manage the symptoms of a leaky bladder and/or womb prolapse actually works, conclude experts in an editorial published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

Ten pence restaurant chain levy on sugary drinks linked to fall in sales

October 16, 2017
The introduction of a 10 pence levy on sugar sweetened drinks across the 'Jamie's Italian' chain of restaurants in the UK was associated with a relatively large fall in sales of these beverages of between 9 and 11 per cent, ...

New exercises help athletes manage dangerous breathing disorder

October 16, 2017
A novel set of breathing techniques developed at National Jewish Health help athletes overcome vocal cord dysfunction and improve performance during high-intensity exercise. Vocal cord dysfunction, now also referred to as ...

Learning and staying in shape key to longer lifespan, study finds

October 13, 2017
People who are overweight cut their life expectancy by two months for every extra kilogramme of weight they carry, research suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.