Boys With Social Difficulties More Susceptible To Early Substance Abuse


Young boys entering middle schools grade with anxiety, co-occurring social skills and learning problems are more susceptible to aggressive behaviour and substance abuse, a new study has revealed. The study found young boys with social difficulties having more chances of getting involved in alcohol and drug abuse by the end of eight grade, highlighting the escalating substance abuse trends among middle-schoolers.

Researchers from University of Illinois conducted a survey to found out the impact of behavioural and co-occurring social problems among 2,600 middle-schoolers. They surveyed 37 different schools in Chicago, Durham, North Carolina, Athens, Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia and questioned them about physical, verbal and relational aggression and their use of marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes in the last 30 days.

The researchers conducted a survey at four-time points, starting in the fall term of sixth standard and ending in the spring term of eight standard. At each time point, a teacher evaluated the behaviour of participants, in order to access their learning problems, social skills and anxiety issues. Teachers also monitored how frequently the students stole from other students or skipped their classes.

The findings of the study indicated that substance abuse among young boys increased with time and was the fastest among students with social difficulties. They also found students who had problems in four leading domains including anxiety, learning, conduct and social skills were more prone to engaging or getting involved in substance abuse and aggressive behaviours.

Students with social difficulties constituted 6.3 percent of the study population, while students who performed well on these four domains constituted 61 percent of the sample. Researchers of the study also found a group of young boys, constituting 15 percent of the study population who had positive social skills but moderate issues in relation to learning, conduct and anxiety. This group were more susceptible to a negative influence of their peer groups, leading to alcohol and drug abuse.

Professor Kevin Tan, the principal investigator of the study said, “Understanding these configurations of social-emotional, learning and conduct problems can help us understand how they elevate or decrease students’ risks for different outcomes. There are opportunities here for schools to provide early prevention and interventions to address any problems before they become severe.”

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