British teens with the best study scores are less likely to smoke cigarettes but more likely to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana, compared to teens with the lowest grades. This is stated in a study published this Wednesday in the British Medical Journal Open.
Although some people believe that the most outstanding students simply have a tendency to experiment, James Williams and Gareth Hagger-Johnson, co-authors of the research, say that the patterns of use of these substances continue into adulthood.
“Our research provides evidence against the theory that these teens stop doing so when they grow up,” say the authors, both associated with University College London.
Why do young people drink alcohol and smoke marijuana?
In the decade that ended in 2014, England saw a decrease in the percentage of 14-year-olds who admitted to smoking and drinking. In 2004, 12% of 14-year-olds agreed to smoke cigarettes frequently, while 23% said they drank alcohol at least once a week and 17% said they had already tried cannabis. Ten years later, the numbers were 4%, 6%, and 9%, respectively.
Drinking from the age of 18 is allowed in the UK, although young people aged 16 and 17 who are accompanied by an adult may drink (but not buy) beer, wine or cider with food.
Overall, the news was good, but it remains unclear why certain teens turn to drugs. Looking for an answer, Williams and Hagger-Johnson surveyed more than 6,000 public and private school students across England.
Through questionnaires, they tracked each student’s use of tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis, from the age of 13 or 14 to the age of 19 or 20. Williams and Hagger-Johnson used results of national tests taken at the age of 11 to classify students academically.
Some of his findings were not surprising.
During the early teens, students with the best grades were less likely to smoke cigarettes and more likely to drink alcohol than their peers with the lowest grades. At the time, they were slightly more likely to say they used cannabis.
During the late teens, the students with the best grades were twice as likely to drink alcohol frequently compared to the others, although they also showed less tendency to drink compulsively.
During the same period of time in their lives, the most academically talented students proved to be almost twice as likely to use cannabis consistently and 50% of them were more likely to use it occasionally, compared to their peers with grades. lower.
A “potential explanation” for this, according to Williams and Hagger-Johnson, is that “teens with the best abilities are more open to trying cannabis, but are initially more careful with illegal substances in early adolescence because they are more aware of the immediate and long-term effects of breaking the law. “
“Cognitive ability is also associated with openness to new experiences and with higher levels of boredom, due to a lack of mental stimulation at school,” add the co-authors.
Another possibility: Smarter teens may want to ingratiate themselves and be accepted by older peers who “make it easier for them to access alcohol and cannabis,” they say.
Finally, they say that drinking patterns may be associated “with parental influence, since parents with higher cognitive abilities and (good) socioeconomic status are known to drink alcohol frequently.”
Meanwhile, average students were 25% more likely to use cannabis occasionally and 53% more likely to use it persistently in the early teens, compared to students with the lowest grades.
Average students also smoke more marijuana than students with the lowest grades.
“It is widely accepted that cigarette smoking, heavy drinking, and smoking cannabis are detrimental to health,” say Williams and Hagger-Johnson.
Possible health effects include lung cancer, liver cirrhosis, and psychiatric illness. Dependency or addiction is another possible consequence, but this will not only affect your health. Another possible repercussion for those who venture to try soft drugs is receiving a worse education and having fewer job opportunities.
Same in all countries?
According to Pat Aloise-Young, a psychologist and associate professor at Colorado State University, “the cigarette findings are consistent with the existing literature (that lower-scoring students are likely to smoke tobacco).”
But in the results on alcohol things are not so equal. Although in England the findings indicate that the most talented students drink more, in the United States researchers have found the opposite result, both in high school and in the first years of university. That is, says Aloise-Young, American college students consume more alcohol than their peers who are not in college.
For Dolores Cimini, psychologist and assistant director of the prevention and evaluation program at the Center for Substance Abuse Guidance at the University of Albany, “the strength of the study (English) lies in the fact that it was carried out with a large sample of young people.” However, the fact that it is based on interviews with the same young people means that it could have problems “related to the accuracy of the data collected”.
According to Dr. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center, it is necessary to “differentiate between substance experimentation and a problem with drug use.” In any case, he believes that the results of the British investigation are “interesting”.
“We tend to think that young people who don’t do well in school are prone to alcohol and drugs,” says Levine, but this new study shows us that “the issue is more complex.”