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Even a Little Pot Use Ups College Dropout Risk

Second study found similar connection with other drugs

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Brophy Marcus

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, March 22 (HealthDay News) -- College students who use marijuana and other illegal substances, even occasionally, are more likely to leave school than students who don't dabble in drugs, new research finds.

There's a strong link between marijuana use and "discontinuous enrollment," said study author Dr. Amelia Arria, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. The same goes for other illicit drugs, she added.

In a recent issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Arria and her colleagues reported that students with high levels of marijuana use (more than 17 days a month) were twice as likely as those with minimal use (less than a day a month) to have an enrollment gap while in college. But even students who used pot less often, in the range of three to 12 days a month, were more likely to experience enrollment gaps.

Arria said, "We wanted to look at whether or not drug use interferes with goals students had set for themselves. Our results show that marijuana use is not a benign thing."

For their research, the authors used data from the College Life Study, ongoing research on health-related behaviors among college students. They tracked 1,133 participants (47 percent male) over four years. All of the students began their freshman year between the ages of 17 and 19, and they all attended the same university located in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

During each school year, they participated in questionnaires and interviews, even if they had decided not to return to classes at the university (a financial incentive was offered). Their enrollment and graduation data were obtained from university records that the students consented to share.

"Continuous enrollment" was defined as being enrolled at the university for at least one credit during each fall and spring semester for the first four years of the study, Arria said. By the study's end, 71 percent of the students had remained continuously enrolled over four years, and 29 percent had not.

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.

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