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Study: Student Athletes Use Fewer Drugs, More Alcohol

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ANN ARBOR (WWJ) – A new study shows that kids who exercise and play team sports are less like to smoke or use marijuana and other drugs — but they may be more likely to drink.

About 38 percent of teens who didn’t exercise reported smoking cigarettes at some point in the past month, and 23 percent had smoked marijuana. That compared to 25 to 29 percent of frequent exercisers and athletes who had smoked cigarettes and 15 to 17 percent who smoked marijuana.

WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke with University of Michigan researcher Yvonne McElrath, one of the study’s authors.

McElrath said this data can be put to good use.

“It’s potentially helpful for individuals attempting to design prevention programs or treatment programs to consider how exactly this works. How can we tailor exercise to help individuals can down on their substance use, as well as prevent it in the first place,” she said.

The results, however, also showed high school students on athletic teams drank more alcohol than their peers. But this did not extend to people who exercised without being part of a team. About 45 percent of non-exercisers said they had drunk alcohol in the previous month, which rose to 57 percent for those who played a team sport.

McElrath said drinking appears to be a social activity on some teams, and there may be peer pressure to drink after the game.

“For alcohol, there seems to be a special relationship between team sports participation, especially competitive team sports participation, and increased use as high school seniors.  And we’re not the first study to find this at all. This has been found in previous research,” she said.

McElrath said she thinks the legality of alcohol contributes to that particular issue, adding that there is a need for targeted prevention efforts.

“Trying to get across that you can be a strong participant, doing your best in sports… that doesn’t mean that you need to be consuming alcohol,” she said.

The study, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, followed high school seniors through young adulthood. The report included data on close to 12,000 students, about half of whom filled out follow-up surveys until they were 25 or 26 years old.

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