Academic Performance, Popularity, and Depression Predict Adolescent Substance Use

Article excerpt

Adolescent substance use remains high in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1998). A recent National Institute on Drug Abuse report indicated that 65% of high school seniors had smoked cigarettes, 80% had consumed alcohol, 23% had tried marijuana, and 10% had used cocaine (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 2001). Although for some adolescents substance use may last for only a brief period of experimentation, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use may lead to addiction (Botvin & Wills, 1985). Substance use in adolescence has been noted to have negative consequences, including health and emotional problems, lower social competence, and problems with school or work (Palmer & Liddle, 1996).

Substance use generally starts during adolescence, and a number of risk factors have been noted (Dryfoos, 1992; Jensen, 1997), including peer pressure, popularity, and depression (Jensen, 1997; Kandel, Johnson, Bird, & Camino, 1997; Newcomb & Felix-Ortiz, 1992). Protective factors, such as academic performance and extracurricular activities, have also been found to be strong predictors of adolescent substance use (Dryfoos, 1992; Jensen, 1997; Sutherland & Shepherd, 2001).

In the present study, high school seniors were administered a questionnaire that included these risk and protective factors, along with self-reported substance use. Based on previous studies, we expected that adolescent substance use would be positively related to depression and negatively related to academic performance and popularity (Dryfoos, 1992; Jensen, 1997; Newcomb & Felix-Ortiz, 1992; Sutherland & Shepherd, 2001). Because alcohol use and cigarette smoking often precede marijuana use, and because marijuana use in turn often precedes hard drug use (Kandel, 1980), the relations between cigarette, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use were also assessed.

METHOD

Participants

Eighty-nine seniors (52 females and 37 males) from a suburban Florida high school participated in this study. Their families were, on average, middle to upper middle socioeconomic status (M = 2.37 on the Hollingshead, 1975, Two-Factor Index). Seventy-six percent were Caucasian, 11% Hispanic, 5% Asian, 3% African American, and 5% other.

Measures

The students were given a 181-item Likert-type questionnaire that examined multiple behavioral and psychological aspects of adolescent life (Field & Yando, 1999). They completed the questionnaire anonymously, during a 45-minute class period, in a large assembly room.

Substance use. The students rated their level of substance use (one question for each substance) on a 4-point scale. They were asked how often they smoked cigarettes and consumed alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine in the past (1 = never to 4 = regularly).

Popularity. Popularity was determined by asking the students to rate their popularity at school on a 4-point Likert scale.

Academic performance. Academic performance was determined by asking the students to provide their school grade point average (GPA).

Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). The CES-D (Radloff, 1977) is a 20-item scale, with scores ranging from 0 to 60. Respondents rate the frequency of 20 symptoms (experienced within the last week), including depressed mood, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, loss of energy, and sleep and appetite problems. A score of 16 or greater is considered the clinical cutoff point for depression. Myers and Weissman (1980) reported a 6% false positive and 36% false negative rate. In addition, this scale has been shown to be reliable and valid for diverse demographic groups, including adolescents (Radloff, 1977).

RESULTS

Multiple Regression Analyses

To examine the relation between the predictor variables and substance use, four separate sets of regression analyses were conducted, with cigarette, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use as the dependent variables. …