What You Need to Know About the Middle School – Drug Use Connection

Posted on February 1st, 2012, 0 Comments

I really like young adolescents. While teaching middle school, I learned firsthand about their creativity and sense of fun as well as their knack for keeping the adults in their lives on their toes. Thus, when I was asked recently to lead a discussion about how to help this age group avoid drugs, I jumped at the chance.

To prepare for the discussion, I took a fresh look at the research literature. And one of the most striking things I found was the sharp increase in the number of kids who begin to use marijuana between the ages of 13 to 15. What really caught my attention, though, was the number of studies showing how pivotal a middle school student’s commitment to academic achievement can be when it comes to their drug use.

For example, one study (Henry, 2010 ) found that students with poorer grades in 6th grade increased their involvement in drug use as they progressed toward 9th grade while students with better grades in 6th grade showed a lower escalation of drug use during the course of middle school. Another study (Tang & Orwin, 2009) showed poor school grades put middle school students at greater risk for beginning to use marijuana a year later. And yet another study (Ellickson et al., 2004) found that even after controlling for factors with known links to drug use (things like rebelliousness, acting out in school, engaging in other delinquent behavior, and associating with drug using peers), students in grades 7-9 who tend to earn grades of C or worse are up to twice as likely to begin to use marijuana the next year compared to their peers who earn good grades.

Now, when you look at the overall picture of adolescent drug use, the link is in both directions – with worsening academic achievement leading to drug use and further involvement in drug use leading to poor achievement. But for young adolescents, recent research shows that the flow of influence is mostly from poor academic achievement to drug use rather than the other way around.

The connection between middle schoolers’ academic achievement and drug use is a crucial one for parents to know about because it is often in the middle school grades that school commitment and achievement take a nosedive. For some kids, the roots of underachievement may go back to preschool. But the middle grades are when kids are most likely to begin grumbling about teachers, protesting about homework, and showing potential to slip through the cracks in the educational system.

There are multiple causes of underachievement in young adolescents. The next post will take a look at some of the most common causes and what you can do to help protect your teen.

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