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Even a Little Pot Use Ups College Dropout Risk

Second study found similar connection with other drugs
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Reasons that students left college varied. While some transferred to another university, others exited college life altogether, so the authors opted to use the term "discontinued enrollment" instead "dropout."

Aria said it's key to point out that their results were independent of other factors such as demographics, high school GPA, fraternity or sorority enrollment, personality type, risk-taking behaviors, and a student's use of tobacco and alcohol.

"Marijuana use was still a predictor of discontinuous enrollment," Arria said.

A second study, published in the journal Psychiatric Services and funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, looked at drug use and mental health problems and the risk of leaving college prematurely. Arria and her colleagues report that students who experience symptoms of depression and seek treatment for depression during college might be at risk for an enrollment gap, too, especially if they use pot or other illicit drugs.

However, students whose depression was identified and treated before heading to college were not at risk for enrollment problems once at the university level.

Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at NYU Langone Medical Center and a professor at the NYU School of Medicine, said the studies are interesting, especially when reviewed together.

"When they say there's a need for early intervention for illicit drug users, there may be other issues that cast the die for drug use, namely depression," Galanter said. "The question is, do drugs cause the problem or are they a consequence of some other problem? Could it be depression that leads people to use drugs secondarily? It's not clear what's causal."

Study author Arria said that although marijuana tends to be viewed as a more benign drug, that is a fallacy. "The perceived risk of marijuana is declining because people think it's more benign than it is, and its use is going up among college students. But we've known for a long time that marijuana affects cognition and memory."

Nonmedical use of prescription drugs is also a concern among college students.

Galanter said, "The real serious drug problem is the painkillers -- Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin. There are a notable number of young people getting seriously addicted. It's a noticeable statistic. Some of these drugs come from the family medicine cabinet but there are also people who get illicit prescriptions and then sell the drugs as dealers."

Arria said that school administrators and parents can help by communicating with kids early in adolescence about the risks of drugs, and intervening when a child needs help and support. Armed with that support, students are more likely to stay in college once they get there.

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