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Teen Alcohol Abuse May Be Cause, Rather Than Effect, Of Social Isolation And Poor Grades: Study

06/12/2012 02:00 pm ET

Teen alcohol consumption is at times credited as a result of high stress lifestyles and an allowance for students to unwind around friends. But a recent study suggests that underage consumption might actually be the cause, rather than an effect.

A sociological study published in the June issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior has found that alcohol consumption may actually lead to increased social stress and poor grades, especially among students in schools with tight friendship circles and low rates of drinking.

The researchers found a correlation between drinking and feelings of loneliness and isolation across all school environments -- feelings that were magnified among self-reported drinkers in schools where classmates tended to avoid alcohol and were tightly connected.

“This finding doesn’t imply that drinkers would be better off in schools in which peer networks are tightly organized around drinking,” Robert Crosnoe, University of Texas at Austin professor of sociology, said in a statement. “Instead, the results suggest that we need to pay attention to youth in problematic school environments in general but also to those who may have trouble in seemingly positive school environments.”

The researchers adjusted statistically for ethnicity, race, gender and socioeconomic circumstances. They tracked the respondents’ grade point averages and found a direct link between feelings of isolation and declining grades. The difference in GPA between drinkers who felt socially isolated, and their peers, could equal as much as three-tenths of a point from year to year.

“In general, adolescents who feel as though they don’t fit in at school often struggle academically, even when capable and even when peers value academic success, because they become more focused on their social circumstances than their social and academic activities,” Crosnoe said.

The study, which was conducted byprofessors at UT Austin and Michigan State University, analyzed National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) data on 8,271 adolescents in grades 7-12 from 126 schools. High schools were selected based on region, urbanicity, school type (public vs. private), racial composition and size.

The researchers also relied on Add Health’s companion Adolescent Health and Achievement transcript study.

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