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May 05, 2014 01:33 PM EDT

Using Marijuana At School May Be A Cry For Help


Students who drank alcohol or used marijuana on campus were at higher risk for trauma and mental health problems, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that using substances at school was associated with increased odds of serious problems such as depression, intimate partner violence and attempting suicide. They suggest that when teens are caught drinking or using marijuana at school, they should be screened for exposure to trauma, mental health problems and other serious health risks

"At-school substance use is not just an isolated event requiring simple disciplinary action but an important signal identifying teens in need of urgent psychosocial assessment and support," Rebecca N. Dudovitz, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and the UCLA Children's Discovery & Innovation Institute, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationally representative survey of more than 15,000 American high school students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts the survey every two years to monitor conditions and behaviors that impact adolescent health.

They looked at whether at-school alcohol and marijuana use by high school students was associated with nine other serious health risks, including driving while intoxicated or riding in a car with a driver who was intoxicated; fighting; carrying a weapon at school; drinking alcohol or using drugs the last time they had sex; experiencing intimate partner violence; being forced to have intercourse; having symptoms of depression; thinking about suicide; and attempting suicide.

They found that 9 percent of all students reported using alcohol or marijuana at school. For both boys and girls, using alcohol or marijuana on campus was associated with dramatically higher odds of exhibiting all nine serious health risks than using substances only out-of-school.

Researchers said the results represent a considerable history of an ongoing risk for immediate harm that might not otherwise come to the attention of a parent or school official.

"When a student is found using substances at school, we should think of it as a sign that a child needs help," Dudovitz said. "Given the strong association of at-school substance use with some very serious and dangerous health risks, like having experienced sexual trauma and attempting suicide, we should not dismiss at-school substance use as just another school infraction. Instead, it may be a truly urgent call for caring adults to get involved and help that student access appropriate services."

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