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Problems at School

Problem Drinking Affects School Performance

How does problem drinking affect young people's schooling? In some cases the linkage between problem drinking and academic performance is profound. Drinking can affect the biological development of young people as well as their school-related achievement and behavior.

Serious alcohol use among youth has significant neurological consequences. Alcohol damages areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory, verbal skills and visual-spatial cognition. 1, 2 Diagnosticians often find that these skills in adolescents who drink are deficient in comparison to those who aren't drinking.

Scientists know that alcohol problems are tied to lower grades, poor attendance and increases in dropout rates. The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA - now known as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health), a federal study, found that as rates of alcohol use by 12- to 17-year-olds increase, grade point averages decrease. 3 Middle school students whose peers avoid using alcohol and other drugs score higher on state reading and math tests than other students. 4

In any given age group, heavy and binge drinkers are 4-6 times more likely than nondrinkers to say they cut classes or skipped school. They are twice as likely as nondrinkers to say that their school work is poor, and they report more frequently that they are disobedient at school.5 Among high school students, those who use alcohol are five times more likely to drop out than those who don't use alcohol.6 These problems are not limited to the middle and high school setting; hangovers and drinking by college students lead to missed classes and falling behind in school work.7 Alcohol is implicated in more than 40 percent of all college academic problems and in 28 percent of all college dropouts.8


1 Swarzwelder, S., Wilson, W., Tayyeb, M. 1995. Age-Dependent Inhibition of Long-Term Potentiation by Ethanol in Immature Versus Mature Hippocampus. Alcoholism: Clinical and experimental Research. Vo. 19, No. 6: 1480-1485.

2 Brown, S., Tapert, S., Granholm, E. Delis, D. 2000. Neurocognitive Functioning of Adolescents: Effects of Protracted Alcohol Use. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Vol. 24, No. 2: 164-169.

3 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse Report. 2002. Academic Performance and Youth Substance Abuse. Washington, DC:   National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

4 Washington Kids Count. 2003. Impact of Peer Substance Use on Middle School Performance in Washington: Summary. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington.

5 Greenblatt, J. 2000. Patterns of Alcohol Use Among Adolescents and Associations with Emotional and Behavioral Problems. Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies Working Paper. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

6 National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. 2001. Malignant Neglect: Substance Abuse and America's Schools. New York: Columbia University.

7 Perkins, H. 2002. Surveying the Damage: A Review of Research on Consequences of Alcohol Misuse in College Populations. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Supplement No. 14: 91-100.

8 National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. 1994. Rethinking Rites of Passage: Substance Abuse on America's Campuses. New York: Columbia University.