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NYU Study Finds Different Effects of Alcohol and Marijuana Use on Teens

Update Date: Sep 02, 2014 10:18 AM EDT

In a new study, a team of researchers from New York University's (NYU) Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) examined how marijuana and alcohol use affected teenagers' behaviors. They found that the substances had different influences on the teens.

"The paucity of research is of particular public health concern as alcohol and marijuana are the two most commonly used psychoactive substances among adolescents," said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, a CDUHR affiliated researcher and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC). "Nearly half of high school seniors have used marijuana in their lifetime and over two-thirds have used alcohol, but few studies have compared adverse psychosocial outcomes of alcohol and marijuana directly resulting from use."

The team analyzed data on 7,437 students with a modal age of 18 taken from the 2007 to 2011 cohorts of the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study. MTF is an ongoing study that collects information of the behaviors, attitudes and values of American students. The students reported any psychosocial outcomes they experienced from drugs.

The researchers found that alcohol use was linked to unsafe driving more so than marijuana use was. Teens who reported higher levels of frequent drinking were more than 13 times more likely to admit to unsafe driving, whereas marijuana users were only three times more likely to report unsafe driving.

Teens who used alcohol were also more likely to report that the substance negatively affected their relationships with their friends and partners. Alcohol use was also linked to greater feelings of regret particularly in women. Women were also more likely to admit feeling less emotionally stable after drinking. Marijuana use, on the other hand, was linked to compromising users' relationships with teachers or supervisors. Marijuana use was also tied to poor school or job performance.

"Not unexpectedly, we found that the higher the frequency of use, the higher the risk of reporting an adverse outcome," said Dr. Palamar. "In particular, the relationship between frequent alcohol use and regret was much stronger than the relationship between frequent marijuana use and regret."

He added, according to the press release, "We hope that the findings of this study will contribute to the ongoing debate on marijuana policy and its perceived harm when compared to alcohol."

The study, "Adverse Psychosocial Outcomes Associated with Drug Use among US High School Seniors: A Comparison of Alcohol and Marijuana," was published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

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