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Posted 08.27.04
 
 
   

Researcher Finds Driving Provides Opportunity for Teen Alcohol, Marijuana Use

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- For many high school students, obtaining a driver's license means more fun, freedom and responsibility. However, a license also gives students more opportunities to spend time away from adult supervision. A University of Missouri-Columbia researcher found that students are more likely to drink, smoke cigarettes and smoke marijuana when they receive drivers' licenses.

"The increase in substance use in all three categories after getting a license supports the notion that new drivers have more opportunities for use," said Denis McCarthy, assistant psychology professor at MU, whose study is the first to test changes in alcohol and other drug use after obtaining a driver's license.

McCarthy examined 2,865 high school students over the course of one year. The surveys measured students' views on alcohol, cigarette and marijuana use, alcohol use by peers, and attitudes toward drinking and driving. Results showed that when students initially obtained a license, they were more likely to be involved in substance use.

Simultaneously, the students' attitudes toward drinking and driving reflected an increased awareness of the dangers related to such behavior for new drivers. Theoretically, this meant that students would drive to another location to use the substances, but, knowing the dangers of drinking and driving, not use them while in a vehicle.

"For drinking and driving, it may be that newly licensed drivers have a period of 'protection' or perceived vulnerability, but that their drinking and driving behaviors become riskier with more driving experience," McCarthy said. "Understanding what influences this effect may help drinking and driving intervention efforts."

"In many states, the courts suspend the driver's licenses for underage youth who are caught drinking, regardless of whether they are driving or not," McCarthy said. "This study would indicate that this is a sensible plan, since it cuts down on substance use."

McCarthy's study recently was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

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