Behavioral Health, Mental Health, Substance Abuse
Substance Use and Academic Outcomes among High School Seniors: Examining the Influence of Academic Engagement
(School of Public Health (UMD) BCH Faculty)
Background: Substance use is a prevalent risk behavior known to affect academic performance among adolescents in the United States. Understanding factors that influence academic performance among adolescents is necessary to promote academic achievement, which in turn affects adolescent health. Aims: This secondary analysis aimed to: 1) describe the relationship between substance use and two academic outcomes, truancy and grades; and 2) test whether academic engagement mediates the relationship between substance use and truancy/grades. Methods: This analysis utilized nationally representative data of high school seniors (N=13,180) from the 2013 Monitoring the Future dataset. A variable categorizing students as lifetime non-users, former users (those with lifetime but not past-year use), and past-year users was computed based on lifetime and past-year use of 14 substances. Frequency of skipping school during the past four weeks was dichotomized as “never” or “at least once,” and average grades in high school were dichotomized as “B- or higher” and “C+ or lower.” A principal components analysis of nine academic engagement items was performed. Responses from five items were used to calculate an academic engagement score. Results: Approximately one quarter of the students surveyed had never used cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs during their lifetime. When controlling for demographic variables, past-year users were three times more likely than lifetime non-users to skip school and twice as likely to have low average grades. Lifetime non-users reported significantly higher levels of academic engagement than past-year users. No evidence of mediation by academic engagement was found. Significance: These findings contribute toward a clearer understanding of the relationship between abstinence from substance use and academic outcomes. Specifically, these results suggest that adolescents who abstain from substance use experience better academic outcomes than substance users. Programs promoting abstinence from substance use during adolescence are an important strategy to promote academic achievement.