Study Links Drug Experimentation, Psychological Health

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

Teenagers who have experimented with marijuana are more likely to be psychologically healthy than teenagers who either abuse the drug or who have never tried it, a new study suggests.

The study, which appears in this month's issue of the American Psychologist, suggests that frequent drug use is an outgrowth of long-term psychological problems that are evident before a child ever uses drugs.

It also concludes that current drug-education programs, which teach children how to "say no" to drugs, are "misguided" because they do not deal with the underlying causes of drug abuse.

The study, conducted by two psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley, followed 101 teenagers from the Bay Area from age 3 to 18.

At age 18, the youths were divided into three groups: the abstainers, who had never tried marijuana or any other drug; the experimenters, who had used marijuana a few times or once a month; and frequent users, who had used the drug at least once a week and had tried at least one drug other than marijuana.

According to the study, while 68 percent of the teenagers had tried the drug, only 20 percent were frequent users, and nearly 30 percent had never tried the drug. Sixteen percent of the children did not fall into any of the three categories.

Compared with the experimenters, the researchers found, the abusers were typically troubled, alienated, emotionally withdrawn, uncontrolled, and distressed. Such problems were evident when abusers were as young as 7 years old, they said.

"The data clearly indicate, then, that the relative maladjustment of the frequent users precedes the initiation of drug use," the study states.

'Deviant' Abstainers

In contrast, teenagers who abstained from drug use were found typically to be overcontrolled, tense, emotionally-constricted, and lacking in social skills, when compared with the experimenters. Such tendencies were also evident during their early childhood, the researchers said.

Both the abusers and the abstainers had mothers who were seen as being relatively cold and unresponsive, according to the study.

"When the psychological findings are considered as a set, it is difficult to escape the inference that experimenters are the psychologically healthiest subjects, healthier than either abstainers or frequent users," the study says.

The researchers, who stressed that they did not condone drug use, said they used the experimenters as their point of reference in the study because "some experimentation with marijuana cannot be considered deviant behavior for high school seniors in this culture at this time."

"In a statistical sense," they said, "it is not trying marijuana that has become deviant."

Current drug-education efforts are "flawed," according to the report, because they focus on resisting peer pressure and not on the "psychological triad of alienation, impulsivity, and distress."

It suggests that more effective programs would concentrate less on "drug education" and more on improving parenting skills, enhancing self-esteem, and fostering better interpersonal relationships.

The U.S. Education Department challenged some of the study's major conclusions.

"We don't believe that you need to experiment with drugs to grow up in America," said Dick W. Hays, director of the department's drug-abuse-prevention oversight staff. "That shouldn't be part of your process."

Vol. 09, Issue 34

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories





Sponsor Insights

Vocabulary Development for Striving Readers

Free Ebook: How to Implement a Coding Program in Schools

Successful Intervention Builds Student Success

Effective Ways to Support Students with Dyslexia

Stop cobbling together your EdTech

Integrate Science and ELA with Informational Text

Can self-efficacy impact growth for ELLs?

Disruptive Tech Integration for Meaningful Learning

Building Community for Social Good

5 Resources on the Power of Interoperability from Unified Edtech

New campaign for UN World Teachers Day

5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Hiding in Plain Sight - 7 Common Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom

The research: Reading Benchmark Assessments

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

All Students Are Language Learners: The Imagine Learning Language Advantage™

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

How to Support All Students with Equitable Pathways

2019 K-12 Digital Content Report

3-D Learning & Assessment for K–5 Science

Climate Change, LGBTQ Issues, Politics & Race: Instructional Materials for Teaching Complex Topics

Closing the Science Achievement Gap

Evidence-based Coaching: Key Driver(s) of Scalable Improvement District-Wide

Advancing Literacy with Large Print

Research Sheds New Light on the Reading Brain

Tips for Supporting English Learners Through Personalized Approaches

Response to Intervention Centered on Student Learning

The Nonnegotiable Attributes of Effective Feedback

SEE MORE Insights >