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The Link Between Social Difficulties and Drug Abuse Among Boys

“That boy is bad news.”

You may have heard another parent say that about a kid who tends to bully others, ignore authority or engage in undesirable behaviors like smoking, drinking or consuming drugs. Regardless of the accuracy of the observation, you may have wondered, “How did he turn out like this?”

Sociologists have been trying to answer questions like that for decades. Why do some kids “break bad” when others don’t? Is it possible to predict which children are more likely to exhibit aggression, behave inappropriately and misuse substances when they get older?

A Thought-Provoking Study

One study published recently in The Journal of Early Adolescence shed some light on this issue. Researchers from Illinois examined several traits of preteen boys in an effort to detect relationship between high school students and the misuse of tobacco, marijuana or alcohol.

The scientists studied more than 2,600 boys from 37 schools in four American cities from the time they entered sixth grade until they completed the eighth grade. Researchers measured the students’ social, emotional, learning and conduct traits at four points during the study, and they also periodically surveyed the boys on their use of cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol.

Four Issues, Four Groups

Once the results were examined, the researchers divided the subjects into four distinct groups. The first group, known as “high all,” represented the boys who scored highly in all four domains. Unsurprisingly, these students represented the best outcomes in the study.

Young boy and growth chart

The second group, “positive social skills,” comprised boys with strong social domain scores but moderate deficiencies in learning, conduct and emotional skills. As they matriculated through middle school, these students increased their use of both marijuana and alcohol.

The researchers hypothesized that boys in this group may be more susceptible to negative peer pressure, which may lead them to experiment with alcohol or drugs.

The third group, “poor social skills,” showed problems with socializing, conduct and learning at the outset of the study. These boys exhibited the most behavioral problems upon entering sixth grade. However, their marijuana and alcohol use did not increase throughout the study, and their aggression and use of tobacco  declined.

The fourth group, “low all,” displayed problematic tendencies in all four domains studied. They were the most prone to misuse all substances and display aggressive behavior. This supported the results of prior research into troubled youth, which found that such individuals were associated with the poorest life outcomes in their teenage and adult years.

How to Prevent Troubled Preteens From Misusing Substances

The results of this study imply that parents of boys who show warning signs like bad school conduct, anxiety, learning problems or social difficulties should take immediate steps to address their child’s problems.

Therapists and psychologists are trained to diagnose many conditions and formulate strategies and treatment plans to help boys improve in these areas. Parents can also be proactive in teaching their children social skills and helping boys express their emotions in healthy and positive ways.

If your adolescent son misuses substances, don’t despair. There are plenty of treatment programs for teens that can provide your child with coping skills to help him eschew tobacco, alcohol or drugs. In addition, it’s important to identify and address the underlying causes of the substance misuse through therapy, medication or other methods so that the boys are better equipped to make good decisions.

Boys aren’t just born bad. Often, they simply have inadequate emotional or social skills that require some extra attention and guidance. When they do get the assistance they need, boys are much more likely to grow up and become well-adjusted men.

Four ages of men

If your preteen uses alcohol, marijuana or other drugs, contact Next Generation Village for information about teen treatment options.

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