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UK students who score highest on tests are more likely to drink and smoke weed, according to the latest study.

The research, undertaken by the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE), was published in the British Medical Journal Open this week.

It showed that, in a sample of over 6000 young people in England, high scores at Key Stage 2 (age 11) is linked to an increased risk of regular drinking and cannabis use.

James Williams and Gareth Hagger-Johnson, authors of the study, said:

The aim of our study was to determine the association between academic ability in childhood and the onset and persistence of regular cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking and cannabis use from early to late adolescence in a representative sample of English school pupils (the term regular referring to repeated use of a substance over a period of 12 months).

This would answer for the first time whether ability was associated with ‘experimentation’ in early adolescence or if the association persists into later adolescence.

These associations persist into early adulthood, providing evidence against the hypothesis that high academic ability is associated with temporary 'experimentation' with substance abuse.

Conversely, the study suggested that the highest academic achievers were less likely to smoke cigarettes.

Strengths of study:

  • Large sample size from representative of an entire school year
  • Followed seven times over seven years

Weaknesses of study:

  • Data only available on regularity of drinking, rather than quantity
  • No data on cigarette smoking was available after age 15 / 16
  • Data dependent on young survey participants disclosing truth about illegal activities 
  • Data may not reflect the 66 per cent of independent schools without data on academic ability scores

Nevertheless, food for thought.

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