Substance Abuse Impacts on Academic Achievement

Substance Abuse Impacts on Academic Achievement
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Pride Surveys works closely with our education and community coalition partners to address the challenges facing youth today, especially as it relates to substance abuse impacts, academic achievement, and understanding the correlation between the two. 

Good data collection from student surveys is an important tool schools can use to keep educators, parents, students, and community coalitions up to date on the current substance abuse impacts and trends in their local schools. 

Pride Surveys Substance Abuse Impacts on Academic Achievement

Pride Surveys Substance Abuse Impacts on Academic Achievement

In recent years, almost 50 percent of 12th graders have reported that they’ve used drugs at least once in their lifetime, while 18 percent reported using marijuana in the last month. 

We already know that drug use among teens and college students has a detrimental effect on many areas of life, like social and mental health. But what about academic performance? Studies over the last decade make it pretty clear:

High school dropout rates have risen as a result of substance abuse. Studies of 16-18-year-old teens who dropped out of school prior to graduation are more likely than their peers to be users of alcohol, cigarettes, and other illegal drugs.

Drug use among dropouts was higher than for those in school at 31.4 percent versus 18.2 percent. Dropouts were also more likely to be current marijuana users than those in school at 27.3 percent versus 15.3 percent, and illegal users of prescription drugs at 9.5 percent versus 5.1 percent. Teens who drink alcohol or use other drugs are more likely than non-users to drop out of school and less likely than non-users to graduate from high school, attend college or obtain a degree. 

Adding to these facts, advanced brain scan imaging has shown that the brain is not fully developed at puberty as previously thought, occurring as late as 24 or 25 years old, depending on the study. Adolescents, therefore, are far more susceptible to the short and long-term cognitive effects of substance abuse, while the social and emotional consequences further increase the risk for problems in education. 

While each drug produces different effects, all substances, once abused, share things in common: repeated use can alter the way the brain functions and looks. Effects of drug use on the brain that impact academic learning include diminished ability to process information, difficulty concentrating, and problems with ‘working memory.’

Alternatively, research also leans towards drug and alcohol use during adolescence, leading to association with antisocial peer groups, which diminishes school engagement and increases other behavioral and social problems. Substance abuse impacts include a strong behavioral and social component, meaning outcomes such as academic grades, attendance, school completion, and dropping out are influenced by brain functioning, motivation, and social and behavioral skills.

Interestingly, new research now suggests that the ways substance abuse impacts academic performance may differ depending on the nature of the adolescent sample and the developmental outcome studied (high school attendance versus academic achievement and college completion). Specifically, the substance use of heavy drug-using adolescents may directly impair cognitive abilities, which limits academic performance in adolescence. For most young people who use drugs at a lower level, however, drug use may serve as a maturational ‘snare’ that keeps some adolescents engaged in less ideal peer groups as others move on to more normative groups, thus having a long-term direct effect on educational attainment.

Ultimately, studies show that reducing substance use through a treatment program, in turn, increases school attendance among heavy drug-using adolescents. If you notice signs of substance abuse in an adolescent, it is imperative to reach out to a professional. These issues often don’t disappear with age and wisdom.

Pride Surveys can help your schools or community coalition collect data to determine substance abuse impacts among youth and the challenges said use has on academic achievement, specifically utilizing our substance abuse surveys. It’s important to note that education does not occur in a vacuum and that substance use and mental health issues, as well as factors at home and in the community, all can affect youth in different ways. Not knowing or ignoring the issues is never the best option, so we offer well-rounded surveys to look at many of the issues mentioned above. Please get in touch with our team to learn more about how we can be of assistance. 


Adolescent Substance Abuse: America’s #1 Health Problem, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, June 2011

America’s Dropout Crisis: The Unrecognized Connection to Adolescent Substance Abuse, DuPont et al., Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc., March 2013

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