Addiction risk higher among teens at elite schools, says study

Parents usually enroll children in elite schools with a view to provide them the best education and experience including equipping them with the tools necessary to lead a good life and protecting them from unwanted or unsuitable environments. However, a recent study seems to challenge this notion and prove that privilege is not equal to fortification.

The study conducted by a professor of psychology at Arizona State University and published in the journal Development and Psychopathology revealed that teens at leading high schools in the U.S. seem to be at a greater risk of developing an addiction as young adults.

Addiction rates much higher

The study results were based on the substance abuse analysis of 500 young adults belonging to the wealthy communities of the Northeast. These young adults were observed during their high school years, their four years of college and then again between the ages of 23 and 27.

The researchers found that 19 to 24 percent women and 23 to 40 percent men got addicted to alcohol or drugs by the time they turned 26-years-old. The rates were three- and two-times higher, respectively, compared to the national rates. On the other hand, during college years, rates of addiction varied between 11 and 16 percent for women, and between 19 and 27 percent for men, aged up to 22 years. Though the rates of addiction in women were close to the national norms; for men they were twice as high. Suniya S. Luthar, lead author of the study noted, “Results showed that among both men and women and across annual assessments, these young adults had substantial elevations, relative to national norms, in frequency of several indicators — drinking to intoxication and of using marijuana, stimulants such as Adderall, cocaine, and club drugs such as ecstasy.”

Researchers found that these privileged youth usually began experimenting with alcohol and drugs at an early age, and therefore, were at a higher risk of developing an addiction and/ or alcoholism as adults. Some of the possible reasons included:

  • Pressure to succeed at school and college.
  • Availability of money and high-quality fake IDs to buy drugs and alcohol.
  • Peers supporting substance use.
  • Lack of awareness at parents’ end.

Apart from these, the youth also felt an increased pressure to get admission in an equally elite college. This, in turn, led to elevated levels of stress, triggering self-medication in the form of alcohol or drugs. “As long as university admissions processes continue to be as they are – increasingly smaller number of admits per applications and requiring impossible resumes – these young people will continue to be frenetic in pursuing those coveted spots – and many will continue to self-medicate as a result,” Luthar said.

Multiple levels of intervention required

Luthar believes that the problem of substance abuse and addiction has numerous causes, and, therefore, needs multiple levels of interventions. She also said that the situation demanded more detailed research that can help identify the causes of addiction, which can then be overcome.

It is important to understand that teenagers are at a greater risk of developing an addiction to either alcohol and/or drugs. Therefore, one must be vigilant and should take the necessary steps that can help avoid the risk of developing substance abuse disorders among them. These include being a positive role model, spending time with teens, knowing what’s going on in their lives, being aware of the legal consequences, etc.

However, if you know a teenaged boy, who is addicted to alcohol, and needs professional help, you can refer him to the White River Academy, for treatment for alcoholism. Call our 24/7 helpline number or chat online with one of our representatives to understand how we provide alcohol addiction treatment.


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