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Substance Use at School Tied to Risk of Depression, Suicide Attempts

Substance Use at School Tied to Risk of Depression, Suicide AttemptsWhen teens are caught drinking or using marijuana at school, it is a sign they need help, according to new research.

That’s because using at school was found to be associated with increased odds of depression, intimate partner violence and attempted suicide.

“At-school substance use is not just an isolated event requiring simple disciplinary action, but an important signal identifying teens in need of urgent psychosocial assessment and support,” said lead author Rebecca N. Dudovitz, M.D., M.S., F.A.A.P., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children’s Hospital University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the UCLA Children’s Discovery & Innovation Institute.

For their study, Dudovitz and her colleagues analyzed data from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationally representative survey of more than 15,000 U.S. high school students conducted every two years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers looked at whether at-school alcohol and marijuana use by high school students was associated with nine other serious health risks, including:

  • driving while intoxicated or riding in a car with a driver who was intoxicated;
  • fighting;
  • carrying a weapon at school;
  • drinking alcohol or using drugs the last time they had sex;
  • experiencing intimate partner violence;
  • being forced to have intercourse;
  • having symptoms of depression;
  • thinking about suicide;
  • and attempting suicide.

They found that nine percent of students reported using alcohol or marijuana at school. For both boys and girls, using alcohol or marijuana on campus was associated with dramatically higher odds of exhibiting all nine serious health risks than using those substances only when they were out of school, the researchers report.

Students who reported using either alcohol or marijuana at school had a 64 percent chance of having been in a car with an intoxicated driver, a 46 percent chance they had symptoms of depression, a 25 percent chance they had experienced intimate partner violence, and a 25 percent chance they had attempted suicide, according to the study’s findings.

“These represent a considerable history of and ongoing risk for immediate harm that might not otherwise come to the attention of a parent or school official,” Dudovitz said. “When a student is found using substances at school, we should think of it as a sign that a child needs help.”

“Given the strong association of at-school substance use with some very serious and dangerous health risks, like having experienced sexual trauma and attempting suicide, we should not dismiss at-school substance use as just another school infraction. Instead, it may be a truly urgent call for caring adults to get involved and help that student access appropriate services.”

The study was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics


Student taking drugs at school photo by shutterstock.

Substance Use at School Tied to Risk of Depression, Suicide Attempts

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Substance Use at School Tied to Risk of Depression, Suicide Attempts. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 May 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.