Kids From High Achieving Schools Can Be At Risk of Substance Abuse and Addiction Interview with:

Suniya S. Luthar, Ph.D. Foundation Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University Professor Emerita, Columbia University's Teachers College President-elect, American Psychological Association's Div.7 (Development

Dr. Luthar

Suniya S. Luthar, Ph.D.
Foundation Professor of Psychology
Arizona State University
Professor Emerita
Columbia University’s Teachers College
President-elect, American Psychological Association’s Div.7 (Developmental) What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Over the last 20 years, we have found that kids in high achieving schools report higher use of drugs and alcohol than do their counterparts in national normative samples. This particular study was the first in which we followed up samples of high school students through young adulthood, to track levels of substance abuse and addiction.

Our findings showed consistently elevated use of various substances across the years. Of greatest concern were diagnoses of dependence (that is, not just abuse of substances but actual addiction to them); among 26 year olds, rates of these diagnoses were two to three times those in national norms. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: It is probably unwise to dismiss the relatively high drug and alcohol use as just “something all kids do” in these communities. Early use of drugs and alcohol is among the strongest predictors of problematic use or addiction down the line. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We urgently need more research on kids in high achieving schools, following them through the early adult years. Our own studies with adolescents have consistently shown elevated use across diverse samples in public and private schools, in cities and suburbs, and in different parts of the country. What we need now is rigorous research to illuminate the degree to which these problems tend to lessen as young adults settle down into jobs and long-term relationships, or on the other hand, do in fact develop into serious problems of addiction.

No disclosures Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Suniya S. Luthar, Phillip J. Small, Lucia Ciciolla. Adolescents from upper middle class communities: Substance misuse and addiction across early adulthood. Development and Psychopathology, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0954579417000645

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Last Updated on June 5, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD