Study suggests coached extracurriculars prevent underage drinking, smoking

May 8, 2014

Like many forms of medicine, treatment that prevents a condition from ever occurring may be the best possible option. When it comes to addiction, that is certainly the case. While addiction treatment centers employ expert medical and psychiatric staff members to help anybody through the process of recovery, many former drug and alcohol users experience recovery as an everyday effort against the urge to relapse.

With this in mind, preventing people from developing a dependency on substance abuse may be the best medicine for addiction, and this fight starts in early childhood. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center and published in the journal Academic Pediatrics, participation in extracurricular activities that include a coach or mentor figure for preadolescents aged 10 to 14 was correlated with lower rates of marijuana and alcohol consumption among that age range.

Examining the study
Many media pundits proclaim the need to protect children from the threat of drugs, alcohol and addiction, but very few have the answers for how to accomplish this. With the Dartmouth study, the scientific community may be closer to a solution.

The researchers contacted 6,522 U.S. students ranging between 10 and 14 years old via telephone and surveyed them on their experiences with extracurricular activities and the number of times they had consumed marijuana and alcohol. The respondents indicated that a majority of preadolescents participate in after-school clubs and events. A majority of children – 55.5 percent – participated in a team sport with a coach, while 55.4 percent did not have a mentor as part of their team. While not every club was associated with the school, 85.8 percent reported that they regularly engaged in some form of music, dance, sport or academic club.

Despite the heavy participation in extracurricular activities, researchers found that the only group associated with lower rates of underage alcohol consumption and marijuana usage was the section of children who participated in a coached sport.

“How children spend their time matters,” Anna Adachi-Mejia, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said in a statement. “In a nationally representative sample we found that tweens [sic] who participate in sports with a coach were less likely to try smoking. Parents and guardians may think that tweens need less adult supervision when they are not in school. However, our research suggests that certain coached extracurricular activities can help prevent tween smoking and drinking.”

Looking at the bigger picture
The study called for further research on the link between coached sports and lower illicit substance use, though time may be of the essence when considering the current rates of underage drinking and smoking.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39 percent of high school students consume alcohol within a 30-day period, 22 percent binge drink and 8 percent drive afterward. If children start drinking before 15 years of age, they are five times more likely to develop a habit of alcohol abuse later in life.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse explained that 7 percent of 8th graders, 18 percent of 10th graders and 22.7 percent of 12th graders have used marijuana in the past month. Of that number, 6.5 percent of 12th graders ingest marijuana every day.

Adachi-Mejia speculated that some coached activities may be too aggressive for some children, which leads to lower participation rates. To ensure that all preadolescents are protected from early exposure to harmful substances, Adachi-Mejia called for communities to decrease the competitive aspect of certain coached sports so that more can participate and, hopefully, resist the temptations of illicit substances.

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