Boys with social difficulties most susceptible to early substance use

Date: December 3, 2018

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary: Boys who enter sixth-grade with co-occurring social skills, anxiety, learning and conduct problems are at the greatest risk of developing aggressive behavior and using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana by the end of eighth grade, a new study found.
 

“While substance use among all boys in the study population increased over time, it increased the fastest among boys who had the greatest social skills needs,” said University of Illinois social work professor Kevin Tan, the principal investigator of the study.

Rather than any single factor, a combination of characteristics may predict youths’ risk of succumbing to or avoiding problem behaviors, Tan said.

Tan and his co-authors found four distinct patterns of co-occurring social-emotional learning and behavioral problems among the more than 2,600 middle-school boys in their study. The boys were students at 37 schools located in Chicago; Durham, North Carolina; Athens, Georgia; and Richmond, Virginia.

At four time points, beginning in the fall term of sixth grade and ending in the spring term of eighth grade, the students were surveyed on their verbal, relational and physical aggression and their use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana during the prior 30 days.

At each time point, a teacher also assessed each boy’s social skills development, symptoms of anxiety and learning problems. Teachers also reported on their students’ conduct, such as how frequently they skipped classes and stole from other students.

Boys who had significant problems in all four domains — social skills, anxiety, learning and conduct — were the most susceptible to engaging in aggression and substance use, the researchers found.

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