Many parents look to academic performance as an indicator that everything is going well in a teenager's life. ‘Someone making the Honor Roll on a regular basis must be doing okay’, the logic says. Certainly a student with all A’s probably isn't dealing with a drug or alcohol abuse disorder, right?
While it's true that a sudden change in academic performance is a possible sign that something's wrong, the lack of a change doesn't mean everything is perfect. Some teenagers are able to maintain strong academic performance while dealing with a spiraling drug or alcohol addiction. In fact, a study recently published in the British Medical Journal Open notes that intelligent students who perform well in school are actually more likely to drink regularly or smoke pot. Some drugs, such as Adderall, may in fact be used to help with academics.
Correlation between test scores and substance abuse preferences
The study followed 6,000 British teens over the course of about five years. It found that students who tested well tended to drink more often than students who performed poorly academically. Higher academic performers were also more likely to engage in marijuana use.
That doesn't mean other students weren't drinking. In fact, the study showed that while higher-testing students drank more often, lower-testing students were less cautious and drank dangerously. They were more likely to take greater risks or engage in binge drinking that could lead to medical crises.
Researchers weren't sure why there was a difference in the way various students approached drugs or alcohol. They did suggest a few reasons why more intelligent students might engage in alcohol consumption more frequently than their counterparts. One reason, said researchers, is that the higher-testing students might become bored more often or easily and use alcohol or pot as entertainment. Researchers also noted that students who tested high might integrate well with older groups of peers; when hanging out with such peers, they might drink more to fit in.
What can American parents learn about teen drinking and drug use?
Experts note that the same trends are seen among teens in America, though the variation in youth approach to drugs and alcohol doesn't become as apparent until teens reach college ages. Even so, the study findings are important because they point out that parents can't rely solely on academic accomplishment as a way to know whether teens are struggling with substance abuse disorders.
Here are a few other myths that might lull parents into believing their teen isn't using drugs or alcohol.
- My teenager is too smart to use drugs or drink. Rationally, almost any teenager in modern American can list a number of reasons not to use drugs or alcohol. Most of them have been involved in school awareness programs since elementary school. Unfortunately, reasonable thought isn't what leads teens to experiment with drugs or alcohol.
- I know what my teenager does all day; he or she doesn't have time for substance abuse. Frighteningly, teens can gain access to drugs and alcohol at school or during other activities that you might think are safe. Even if you think you know where your teen is and what he or she is doing, you don't always have 100 percent certainty.
- My teenager and I have a strong relationship, and he or she would tell me about a drug or alcohol abuse problem. Even in the most open and loving homes, people hide drug or alcohol abuse for many reasons. That's true for adults as well as teenagers. Your teen might think the use is under control, might not see it as a big deal or might be too ashamed or scared to tell you. If they have become addicted, they might not be thinking rationally enough to tell you.
- My teenager hangs out with great kids, so there's no peer pressure. Even good kids experiment, and since drugs and alcohol are common experimental factors for teens, even the best crowd can get involved.
Does teen drug or alcohol use matter if it doesn't impact academics?
You might be tempted to gloss over teen drug or alcohol abuse because your child is still doing well in school or participating normally in other activities. However, occasional drug use now could develop into addiction later, which means the problem has only worsened once academics are effected.
Teen drug and alcohol use is also illegal, and letting your teen continue with it can lead to severe consequences in the future. Even if your teen only experiments briefly with drinking or drugs, if he or she is caught it could create implications for college admissions, scholarships and even a long-term criminal record.
As a parent, it's important to communicate regularly with your teen and be aware of what is going on in his or her life. Don't just take the report card's answer for whether your teen is doing well.
If you do suspect your teen is struggling with addition or substance abuse, you can call us anytime to find out about treatment options. (844)319-5239