Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Drugs and Alcohol - Effect on Academics

Juveniles abuse drugs and alcohol at historically high rates and studies show that minors start using drugs and alcohol earlier than ever before, which can lead to lifelong problems. One of the key immediate consequences that alcohol and drug abuse has on young people is a negative effect on academic performance. A child’s teenage years are absolutely critical to their mental and behavioral development and this is typically when minors receive the bulk of their education. Juvenile delinquency courts throughout the nation struggle with how to deal with addicted young offenders and how to help these minors stay in school.

Substance Abuse and Academics

In the United States, 25% of juveniles between the ages of 12 and 20 consume alcohol on a monthly basis and the same percentage of 12th graders engage in binge drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row at least once every two weeks.

Studies have shown that there is a clear link between alcohol and drug abuse and academic failure. Addicted minors may miss school more often and may have difficulty focusing on school when in class. Drinking and drug use can lead juveniles to become withdrawn from their peer group and can increase depression, which has a significant effect on a child’s academic performance. Studies have shown that students with high grades are less likely to drink or drugs than classmates with lower grades and students who refrain from drug and alcohol use receive higher marks than those who engage in drug and alcohol use.

The Centers for Disease Control has studied the link between drug and alcohol use and academic performance and has found that students with higher grades are less likely to use alcohol, to engage in binge drinking, to have tried alcohol before the age of 13, to use marijuana, to take prescription drugs without a doctor’s approval and to try drugs such as MDMA.

Declining grades, absenteeism, and increased likelihood of dropping out have been shown to be associated with adolescent substance abuse. Research further shows that low levels of commitment to education and higher rates of truancy and absenteeism are linked to substance abuse in minors. In addition, alcohol and drug abuse have been shown to cause cognitive and behavioral issues in minors, can interfere with academic performance and can create obstacles to learning from their teachers and from peers. The human brain continues to develop until a person turns 25, and drinking or drug use during this period can hinder and impair brain development. This can cause youth to make irresponsible decisions, suffer from memory lapses and to process and send neural impulses at a reduced rate.

Monitoring Academic Performance and Substance Abuse in Juvenile Court

Many of the minors who are declared wards of the juvenile delinquency court and placed on juvenile probation have drug or alcohol abuse issues, many of which have previously gone untreated. Many of these juvenile offenders come from home environments where parents routinely abuse drugs and alcohol. In these cases, it may be necessary to perform a family intervention or even to send the child to a foster or group home in the most serious cases.

Minors who are placed on juvenile probation are typically expected to keep up school attendance and to maintain good grades. The judge will usually require numerous court appearances in order to receive reports on the minor’s school performance and progress on probation. There are often additional challenges when youth offenders have substance abuse issues. The court will typically require the minor to engage in a treatment program specially designed for young people or to receive extensive counseling. Probation will exercise caution in returning the minor to school, as he or she may face temptations to use or drink again once returned to his or her peer group. In some cases, it may be necessary for the minor to change schools. Minors are typically required to undergo regular drug testing as a condition of juvenile probation.