FRIDAY, March 22 (HealthDay News) -- 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
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
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 questionnaires 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 Servicesand 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 illicit drugs.
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 drug use, 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
Nonmedical use of prescription drugs is also a concern among
Galanter said, "The real serious drug 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.
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for
health and safety for college students.
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