Underage Substance Use | Poor Academic Performance is in the news, today, thanks to an opinion piece written by Amelia M. Arria PhD and Robert L. DuPont MD appearing as a post on The Partnership at DrugFree.org Join Together site, “Commentary: Recognizing the Contribution of Adolescent Substance Use to Poor School Performance.”
“Although the association between substance use and academic performance has been on the radar of researchers for quite some time, what is under-recognized by researchers and policy makers alike is the contribution of substance use to poor academic performance.
This distinction is important because it tells us that doing something about substance use is a viable option for improving academic performance. Because we know that almost one-quarter of students will eventually drop out of high school, we need to add drug prevention and intervention to the list of things we can do to solve the nation’s dropout crisis,” writes Amelia M Arria PhD and Robert L. DuPont MD.
The authors continue, writing later in the piece,
“Dropout is the extreme result of a complex and interacting set of risk factors. Because of the critical role parents play both in preventing substance use and promoting academic success, they need to know what they can do to prevent use in the first place, and intervene if their child has a drug or alcohol problem. Once use occurs, an entire constellation of change agents may be needed to solve the problem.”
I urge you to read this opinion piece in its entirety. There is a great deal here we must all take to heart. I will close this post with my own comment on their piece, for as you can imagine, I had an opinion, as well!
Thank you Amelia M. Arria PhD and Robert L. DuPont MD! I work with the at-risk student population and their parents, as well as those who are not considered “at-risk.” Time and again, it’s been my sharing of the research on brain development from birth through early 20s (especially developmental changes triggered by puberty, ages 12-15, and those beginning and continuing ages 16-early 20s), key risk factors for developing a substance use problem, and how drugs and alcohol hijack neural networks in the brain that is helping all concerned understand, “teen substance use is not to be treated as ‘just a phase’ or ‘something all teen’s do.’” It is serious and can have serious consequences as you’ve outlined in your opinion piece and must be stopped or prevented. Helping parents, teachers and administrators understand they have to be the “wise decision maker” their/the child is incapable of being – especially ages 12-15 because of the instinctual, hardwired species-specific neural network changes that occur during puberty and the fact that the brain ages 12-early 20s is not the brain of an adult. As such, substances do not work in that brain the way they work in the brain of an adult nor is adult-like decision making possible in that brain the way it is in the brain of an adult.
This is not going to be easy, but we must help parents, teachers and administrators truly understand the neural network and embedded brain map concepts of the developing brain (and what influences how those wire and map) and what we all must do differently to “talk to” that brain. [One of my recent posts is titled, “Want to Get Through to Teens | Talk to Their Brains.”] I know, myself, that when I was parenting teens over a decade ago, before this new brain and addiction-related research was available, I thought I was a bad parent for not trusting my children. And then one of them was suspended for drinking at a sophomore school dance. There’s a great deal that can be done. We can change this, but I believe it starts with understanding their brains.