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Substance Use at School: Depression and Suicide

substance use at schoolAccording to new research, if teens are caught engaging in substance use at school, it is a cry for help.[1] Using at school is associated with increased depression, intimate partner violence, and attempted suicide.1

“At school, substance use is not just as 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, MD, MS, FAAP.1

For their study, Dudovitz and colleagues analyzed the data from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is a nationally representative survey of more than 15,000 United States high school students that is conducted every two years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1 The researchers looked at whether at-school alcohol and marijuana use was associated with nine serious health risks, including:

  • Driving intoxicated or riding in a car with an intoxicated driver;
  • Fighting;
  • Carrying a weapon at school;
  • Drinking alcohol or using drugs the last time they had intercourse;
  • Experiencing intimate partner violence;
  • Being forced to have intercourse;
  • Having symptoms of depression;
  • Thinking about suicide;
  • And attempting suicide.1

Researchers discovered that nine percent of students reported using alcohol or marijuana at school.1 Regarding both males and females, using at school was associated with significantly higher odds of exhibiting all nine serious health risks, compared with using the same substances outside of school.1

Students who reported using at school had a 64 percent chance of having been in a car with an intoxicated driver, a 46 percent chance of having symptoms of depression, a 25 percent chance they experienced intimate partner violence, and a 25 percent chance they had attempted suicide.1

“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,” said Dudovitz. “When a student is found using substances at school, we should think of it as a sign that a child needs help.”1

Dudovitz added, “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.”1



[1] Wood, J. (2014). Substance Use at School Tied to Risk of Depression, Suicide Attempts. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 5, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/05/05/drinking-or-using-drugs-at-school-may-be-a-cry-for-help/69395.html

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