Even a little pot use ups college dropout risk

March 22, 2013 by Mary Brophy Marcus, Healthday Reporter
Even a little pot use ups college dropout risk
Second study found similar connection with other drugs.

(HealthDay)—College students who use marijuana and other illegal substances, even occasionally, are more likely to leave school than students who don't dabble in drugs, new research finds.

There's a strong link between marijuana use and "discontinuous enrollment," said study author Dr. Amelia Arria, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. The same goes for other illicit drugs, she added.

In a recent issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Arria and her colleagues reported that students with high levels of marijuana use (more than 17 days a month) were twice as likely as those with minimal use (less than a day a month) to have an enrollment gap while in college. But even students who used pot less often, in the range of three to 12 days a month, were more likely to experience enrollment gaps.

Arria said, "We wanted to look at whether or not drug use interferes with goals students had set for themselves. Our results show that marijuana use is not a benign thing."

For their research, the authors used data from the College Life Study, ongoing research on health-related behaviors among college students. They tracked 1,133 participants (47 percent male) over four years. All of the students began their freshman year between the ages of 17 and 19, and they all attended the same university located in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

During each school year, they participated in and interviews, even if they had decided not to return to classes at the university (a financial incentive was offered). Their enrollment and graduation data were obtained from university records that the students consented to share.

"Continuous enrollment" was defined as being enrolled at the university for at least one credit during each fall and spring semester for the first four years of the study, Arria said. By the study's end, 71 percent of the students had remained continuously enrolled over four years, and 29 percent had not.

Reasons that students left college varied. While some transferred to another university, others exited college life altogether, so the authors opted to use the term "discontinued enrollment" instead "dropout."

Aria said it's key to point out that their results were independent of other factors such as demographics, high school GPA, fraternity or sorority enrollment, personality type, risk-taking behaviors, and a student's use of tobacco and alcohol.

"Marijuana use was still a predictor of discontinuous enrollment," Arria said.

A second study, published in the journal Psychiatric Services and funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, looked at drug use and mental health problems and the risk of leaving college prematurely. Arria and her colleagues report that students who experience symptoms of depression and seek treatment for depression during college might be at risk for an enrollment gap, too, especially if they use pot or other .

However, students whose depression was identified and treated before heading to college were not at risk for enrollment problems once at the university level.

Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at NYU Langone Medical Center and a professor at the NYU School of Medicine, said the studies are interesting, especially when reviewed together.

"When they say there's a need for early intervention for illicit drug users, there may be other issues that cast the die for , namely depression," Galanter said. "The question is, do drugs cause the problem or are they a consequence of some other problem? Could it be depression that leads people to use drugs secondarily? It's not clear what's causal."

Study author Arria said that although marijuana tends to be viewed as a more benign drug, that is a fallacy. "The perceived risk of marijuana is declining because people think it's more benign than it is, and its use is going up among college students. But we've known for a long time that marijuana affects cognition and memory."

Nonmedical use of prescription drugs is also a concern among college students.

Galanter said, "The real serious problem is the painkillers—Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin. There are a notable number of young people getting seriously addicted. It's a noticeable statistic. Some of these drugs come from the family medicine cabinet but there are also people who get illicit prescriptions and then sell the drugs as dealers."

Arria said that school administrators and parents can help by communicating with kids early in adolescence about the risks of drugs, and intervening when a child needs help and support. Armed with that support, students are more likely to stay in college once they get there.

Explore further: More mental health woes in college kids who abuse prescription drugs

More information: Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tips on health and safety for college students.

Related Stories

More mental health woes in college kids who abuse prescription drugs

June 19, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Prescription drug abuse among American college students is linked to depression and suicidal thoughts, a new study finds.

Athletes may have different reasons for marijuana use

July 11, 2011
College athletes tend to be less likely than their non-athlete peers to smoke marijuana. But when they do, they may have some different reasons for it, according to a study in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol ...

Study shows long-term drug abuse starts with alcohol

July 11, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Alcohol — not marijuana — is the gateway drug that leads adolescents down the path toward more serious substances, a new University of Florida study shows.

Drug, alcohol abuse more likely among high school dropouts

February 20, 2013
(HealthDay News) —The link between poor academic performance and substance abuse just got stronger, with a new U.S. government report showing ties between the two.

Many teens drinking, taking drugs during school: survey

August 22, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Ninety percent of American high school students report that some of their classmates are using illicit drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, during the school day, a new survey found.

Recommended for you

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

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.