As the collegiate world becomes more competitive to enter, high school students are reporting a high level of stress trying to balance the commitments between advanced placement/college-preparatory classes, friends, athletic teams and future collegiate institutions.
New York University College of Nursing conducted a recent survey of 128 private school junior-year students to evaluate many different aspects of the origins of their stress and methods for relieving their frustrations. Of these students, almost half (49%) reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and a third (31%) reported feeling somewhat stressed. In addition, females reported higher levels of stress.
Unfortunately, stressed out students are turning to risky behaviors that are affecting their mental health and academic performance: substance use and abuse. One female student recounts, “Marijuana probably was a big anti-stress thing for me last year…just being relaxed for like an hour or two.”
Of those surveyed, thirty-eight percent (38%) of students reported getting drunk and thirty-four percent (34%) of students reported getting high on an illegal substance as a way to relieve some stress. These rates were one to two times greater than reported in national normative samples.
Alcohol and marijuana were described as the primary substances students used for relaxation. As a male student noted: “most of the things that people do, here, when they’re stressed is they go get drunk or they get high.” However, for the most part students reported that substance use, while very common, did not usually rise to the level of problem or hazardous use.
Alcohol and marijuana were not the only substances high school students use, as reported by the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Marya Gwadz. “While students didn’t discuss prescription drug use, members of the expert panel indicated its widespread use among students for whom it was prescribed as well as those for whom it was not prescribed,” said Gwadz. One member of the panel, who counsels students noted “Using Ritalin (a stimulant commonly prescribed for ADHD) is seen only as a benefit and [the students are] incredulous that any faculty or counselor would challenge that taking Ritalin to get an edge in your academic performance, that there could be anything wrong with that … that’s what you have to do in this world.”
Substance use, according to this study, may be higher in high schools than what national normative samples. Dr. Noelle Leonard, senior research scientist at NYU, suggests that schools and families work together to talk on the role of substances in coping with stress:
“Schools have an opportunity to engage and train families on ways to increase their capacities to serve as resources for their children; to educate families on the deleterious effects of chronic stress and the role of substances in coping with stress; and engage families and students in a dialogue about expectations for achievement and a wider definition of success, all of which may allow students to fully participate in the richness of the private school environment.”
Creating a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy in schools is critical in this educational component and can prevent coping habits from continuing into college years.
Source: New York University