High School Dropouts Have Higher Rates of Cigarette, Alcohol, Illicit Drug Use

Edited by Living Sober

Last updated March 11, 2013

A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that youth aged 16-18 who have dropped out of high school are more likely than their counterparts to be current users of cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol and other illicit drugs.

“Current users” are those who reported use in the past month. While the study showed that dropouts were more likely to be current users in every category (cigarettes, alcohol, binge alcohol, any illicit drug, marijuana, and non-medical use of prescription type drugs), the differences in smoking rate between dropouts (56.8%) and in-school students (22.4) was most significant.  Illicit drug use among dropouts (31.4%) compared to in-school students (18.2%) was also significant.

Dropouts were more likely to be current users of marijuana, at 27.3% compared with in-school users at 15.3%, and dropouts were twice as likely to use prescription drugs for non-medical use compared to their in-school counterparts, at 9.5% and 5.1%, respectively.

The report showed that current substance use rates among female dropouts were generally higher than the rates for similar aged females who were still in school with the exception of current alcohol use, for which there was no statistical difference between males and females.

While it is difficult to draw cause and effect conclusions based on this report (i.e. whether substance use contributed to dropout rates or dropping out contributed to higher substance use among dropouts), it is clear that dropout rates have huge public health implications and that our youth need better interventions to prevent substance abuse and dropouts.

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