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Substance Use at School Could Be Cry for Help

SATURDAY May 3, 2014, 2014 -- Teens caught smoking pot or drinking alcohol at school may have deeper problems and should undergo screening for serious health risks, a new study indicates.

The findings suggest that kids who use drugs and alcohol are at higher risk of depression, violence at the hands of boyfriends or girlfriends, and suicide attempts, the study authors said.

"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 study author Dr. Rebecca Dudovitz. She is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and the UCLA Children's Discovery & Innovation Institute.

The researchers looked at statistics from a 2011 government survey of more than 15,000 U.S. high school students.

Nine percent of the students said they'd used alcohol or pot at school. These kids were dramatically more likely to suffer from other unhealthy behaviors such as driving while intoxicated or riding in a car with an intoxicated driver; fighting; carrying a weapon at school, and experiencing domestic violence from an "intimate partner." Other problematic behaviors that were more likely: being forced to have sex; showing symptoms of depression; thinking about suicide; and attempting suicide.

"When a student is found using substances at school, we should think of it as a sign that a child needs help," Dudovitz said in a news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"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," Dudovitz said. "Instead, it may be a truly urgent call for caring adults to get involved and help that student access appropriate services."

The findings are to be presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Vancouver, Canada. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

For more about teens and drug use, see the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Posted: May 2014


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