A new study conducted in the UK found that students with higher grades were less likely to smoke cigarettes. However, they were much more fond of alcohol and marijuana.

Image credits: VY / Pixabay

A previous study showed that while teenage drinking and smoking is still disturbingly high in the UK, there is notable progress. In the decade ending in 2014, underage drinking alcohol dropped from 23% to 6%. But one category of the teens is still going strong on the booze: the smart kids.

James Williams and Gareth Hagger-Johnson, co-authors of the new study published in the British Medical Journal Open tracked the habits of British teenagers from age 13 or 14 until age 19 or 20. They used national test scores to rank them academically.

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They found that during their late teens, teenagers with the highest scores also had the highest percentage of drinkers among them. They were also twice as likely to consume cannabis persistently (as opposed to just occasionally). When it came to smoking tobacco, an opposite trend was described.

Authors suggest that better-performing teenagers are more aware of the detrimental effects smoking has and tend to avoid it. However, this doesn’t seem to apply to alcohol. While the detrimental effects of alcohol are also well known, they are not as frowned upon (not banned in public places for instance). While it’s hard to compare the two, smoking far outweighs drinking when it comes to fatalities: in the UK for example, there are 11 smoking-related deaths every hour compared to one an hour for alcohol (based on figures from ASH, HSCIC and local governments). It’s debatable whether the real effects of smoking or just the stigma are responsible for these effects.

“Smoking cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol and smoking cannabis are widely accepted to be detrimental to your health,” Williams and Hagger-Johnson said. Possible health effects include lung cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and psychiatric illnesses.

The CNN also quoted a different researcher on the issue:

“The cigarette smoking findings are consistent with the literature (students with lower academic standing being more likely to smoke),” Pat Aloise-Young, a psychologist and associate professor at Colorado State University, wrote in an email.
We’re not really sure why this happens. A plausible explanation, one which the authors also debate, is that higher performing students are naturally more curious (part of the reason why they perform so well).

“Higher-ability adolescents are more open to try cannabis but are initially cautious of illegal substances in early adolescence as they are more aware of the immediate and long-term repercussions that breaking the law might incur.”

“Cognitive ability is also associated with openness to new experiences and higher levels of boredom due to a lack of mental stimulation in school,” the co-authors added.

It’s also possible that these students are more likely to integrate with older peers, who in turn will likely introduce them to drugs and marijuana. Whatever the case is, it seems clear that drinking and smoking marijuana is not restricted to lower performing, rebellious teens anymore — on the contrary, the opposite seems to be true and at a social level, it seems we’re not really sure how to deal with that.