Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aisha Sultan: Teens in High-Achieving Schools Face Greater Alcohol, Drug Addiction Risk, Study Finds

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aisha Sultan: Teens in High-Achieving Schools Face Greater Alcohol, Drug Addiction Risk, Study Finds

Article excerpt

It can be a difficult group to advocate for high-achieving teens going to the best schools, living in comfortable homes with successful parents.

This group sounds like the most privileged among us. Professor Suniya Luthar also sees them as among the most vulnerable. Her research suggests accomplished teens in great schools are an under-recognized at-risk population facing higher risks for substance abuse than their peers.

Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, recently published research based on the New England Study of Suburban Youth. Two groups of adolescents from affluent communities were surveyed as high school seniors. One group was followed annually through their college years. The second group was surveyed annually from 23 to 27.

"We found alarmingly high rates of substance abuse among young adults we initially studied as teenagers," Luthar said. The rates of addiction for men were twice as high as national norms and three times as high for women by age 26. Rates of addiction ranged from 23 to 40 percent among men and 19 to 24 percent among women, according to the study published in the May journal of Development and Psychopathology.

"The most common one we hear about is Adderall," Luthar said. "Who has it? Can I buy it? Who can give it to me?" She finds that experimentation starts younger in this cohort and continues through college, where it can turn to Ecstasy and cocaine. "When you are drinking vodka in Polar Springs bottles in seventh grade, it's a problem."

So, why did these students in suburban schools with high standardized test scores, robust extracurricular activities and white-collar professional parents show consistently higher use of substances?

The reasons are likely multifold, according to Luthar: High pressure among teens to get into elite universities, access to disposable income, widespread peer approval for substance use and parents lulled into a false sense of security. When parents see their children performing well in school and demanding activities, they don't believe their child could have serious underlying issues with drugs and alcohol use. …

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