Social difficulties may lead to early substance use in boys

Dec 04, 2018 23:31 IST

Washington D.C. [USA], Dec 04 (ANI): Young adults, especially boys, who enter sixth-grade with co-occurring social skills, anxiety, learning and conduct problems, are at the greatest risk of developing aggressive behaviour and consuming alcohol and marijuana by the end of eighth grade.

Researchers at the University of Illinois found that four distinct patterns of co-occurring social-emotional learning and behavioural problems among more than 2,600 middle-school boys in their study. The boys were students at 37 schools located.

The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Early Adolescence.

“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 Kevin Tan, the principal investigator of the study.

Rather than any single factor, a combination of characteristics may predict youth’s risk of succumbing to or avoiding problem behaviours.

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 assessed each boy’s social skills development, symptoms of anxiety and learning problems.

The researchers found that boys, who had significant problems in all four domains – social skills, anxiety, learning and conduct- were the most susceptible to engage in substance use.

Conversely, the researchers found that boys who scored well on social, emotional, learning and conduct – a group that composed more than 61 per cent of the sample showed only small increases in substance use and physical aggression.

The third risk pattern involved boys who had poor social skills in addition to learning and conduct problems. While these boys entered sixth grade exhibiting the most behavioural problems, their relational aggression and cigarette smoking declined over time and their alcohol and marijuana use didn’t vary.

The youths’ social skills may account for their heightened verbal aggression, the researchers hypothesised, because “these boys are more attuned to how to utilize indirect forms of aggression as a means of harming others and, over time, become more accustomed to dealing with interpersonal matters through non-physical means.”

Tan concluded that alcohol and marijuana use increased among boys in this group, but at lower rates than their peers in the high-risk group. He also suggested that these boys may be more susceptible to negative peer influences that lead to experimentation with alcohol and drugs. (ANI)

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