Rather than gaining “liquid courage” to let loose with friends, teenage drinkers are more likely to feel like social outcasts, according to a new study.
The study shows alcohol consumption leads to increased social stress, which then leads to poor grades, especially among students in schools with tightly connected cliques and low levels of alcohol use.
Researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) on 8,271 adolescents from 126 schools. Begun in 1994, it is the largest survey of health-related behavior among adolescents between grades 7 and 12.
The researchers, who also drew on Add Health’s Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement transcript study, found a correlation between drinking, feelings of loneliness and not fitting in in all school environments. However, these feelings were especially significant among teenage drinkers in schools where fellow students tended to avoid alcohol and were tightly connected to each other.
The research was led by sociologist Dr. Robert Crosnoe from the University of Texas at Austin.
When not surrounded by fellow drinkers, they are more likely to feel like social outcasts, said Crosnoe, who was quick to note that this doesn’t mean teenage drinkers would be better off in a different school where cliques are focused on drinking.
“Instead, the results suggest that we need to pay attention to youth in problematic school environments in general, but also to those who may have trouble in seemingly positive school environments,” he said.
The researchers, who adjusted for factors such as ethnicity, race, gender, and socioeconomic circumstances, tracked the teens’ grade point averages and discovered a direct link between feelings of isolation and declining grades.
The difference between drinkers who felt as though they did not fit in socially and their peers could be as much as three-tenths of a point in grade point average from year to year.
“In general, adolescents who feel as though they don’t fit in at school often struggle academically, even when capable and even when peers value academic success, because they become more focused on their social circumstances than their social and academic activities,” Crosnoe said.
“Given that social development is a crucial component of schooling, it’s important to connect these social and emotional experiences of drinking to how teenagers are doing academically.”
The study, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.