Boys with Social Difficulties More Susceptible to Early Substance Use

Boys with Social Difficulties More Susceptible to Early Substance Use

Summary: A new study reports boys with social skill problems during sixth grade are more likely to develop substance use issues by grade eight.

Source: University of Illinois.

Boys who enter sixth-grade with co-occurring social skills, anxiety, learning and conduct problems are at the greatest risk of developing aggressive behavior and using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana by the end of eighth grade, a new study found.

“While substance use among all boys in the study population increased over time, it increased the fastest among boys who had the greatest social skills needs,” said University of Illinois social work professor Kevin Tan, the principal investigator of the study.

Rather than any single factor, a combination of characteristics may predict youths’ risk of succumbing to or avoiding problem behaviors, Tan said.

Tan and his co-authors found four distinct patterns of co-occurring social-emotional learning and behavioral problems among the more than 2,600 middle-school boys in their study. The boys were students at 37 schools located in Chicago; Durham, North Carolina; Athens, Georgia; and Richmond, Virginia.

At four time points, beginning in the fall term of sixth grade and ending in the spring term of eighth grade, the students were surveyed on their verbal, relational and physical aggression and their use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana during the prior 30 days.

At each time point, a teacher also assessed each boy’s social skills development, symptoms of anxiety and learning problems. Teachers also reported on their students’ conduct, such as how frequently they skipped classes and stole from other students.

Boys who had significant problems in all four domains – social skills, anxiety, learning and conduct – were the most susceptible to engaging in aggression and substance use, the researchers found.

Although this group composed only 6.3 percent of the study population, prior research has shown that youths with these characteristics are at the greatest risk of the poorest outcomes across their lifespans, according to Tan and his co-authors.

Conversely, the researchers found that boys who scored well on social, emotional, learning and conduct – a group that composed more than 61 percent of the sample – showed only small increases in physical aggression and substance use.

The third risk pattern involved boys who had poor social skills in addition to learning and conduct problems. While these boys entered sixth grade exhibiting the most behavioral problems, their physical and relational aggression and cigarette smoking declined over time and their alcohol and marijuana use didn’t vary.

The researchers also identified a fourth distinct risk pattern previously unexamined in research pertaining to a group of boys who may be underserved by practitioners. Boys in this group, which composed about 15 percent of the sample population, had positive social skills but moderate problems with learning, anxiety and conduct.

“Although these boys may be socially skilled, their other problems can lead to increased aggression and substance use as they progress through middle school,” Tan said.

boy walking on train tracks

These youths’ social skills may account for their heightened verbal aggression, the researchers hypothesized, because “these boys are more attuned to how to utilize indirect forms of aggression as a means of harming others and, over time, become more accustomed to dealing with interpersonal matters through non-physical means.”

Alcohol and marijuana use increased among boys in this group, but at lower rates than their peers in the high-risk group. Tan and his co-authors suggested that these social boys may be more susceptible to negative peer influences that lead to experimentation with alcohol and drugs.

“Understanding these configurations of social-emotional, learning and conduct problems can help us understand how they elevate or decrease students’ risks for different outcomes,” Tan said. “There are opportunities here for schools to provide early prevention and interventions to address any problems before they become severe.”


Funding: The data used in the study were drawn from the Multisite Violence Prevention Project, a middle-school violence prevention study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source: Sharita Forrest – University of Illinois
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Patterns of Social-Emotional Needs and Trajectories of Aggression and Substance Use Among Middle School Boys” by Kevin Tan, Deborah Gorman-Smith, Michael Schoeny, Yoonsun Choi in Journal of Early Adolescence. Published November 29 2018.

University of Illinois”Boys with Social Difficulties More Susceptible to Early Substance Use.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 3 December 2018.


Patterns of Social-Emotional Needs and Trajectories of Aggression and Substance Use Among Middle School Boyss

Co-occurring social-emotional problems are associated with increased risk of aggression and substance use. However, few studies examine their configurational patterns. This study identifies patterns of co-occurring social skills, anxiety, learning, and conduct problems among 2,632 urban boys at entry into sixth grade, and their related aggression and substance use trajectories through eighth grade. Latent class analysis revealed four patterns at school entry: “low-all,” “poor social skills,” “positive social skills,” and “high all.” Findings point to important variation in risk. Problem behaviors increased the least through middle school for the “low-all” pattern. The “positive social skills” pattern had an average increase, while the “poor social skills” pattern had higher levels of problem behaviors in sixth and seventh grade. The “high all” showed the fastest increase in problem behaviors and the highest levels in eighth grade. Discussion focuses on implications for a multi-tiered school-based system of supports for behavioral risk management.

Reasons Seniors Might Use Drugs or Alcohol

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. reports that trouble coping with changes, children moving out, and no longer having a job are significant factors that can result in addictive behavior in seniors. Memory loss, confusion, depression and mood changes can all be signs that an addiction is active. For seniors, the same symptoms that can indicate an alcohol or drug addiction can also indicate an early development of dementia or other cognitive issues.

Why Drug or Alcohol Addiction Is Often Misdiagnosed in Seniors

A Guide To Understanding And Helping Seniors Overcome Substance Use Disorders

Drug or alcohol addiction is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms look like other health conditions one would expect to see in a senior. In addition, seniors are less likely to report significant alcohol consumption or to admit to abusing illegal substances. Although “6-11% of elderly hospital admissions are a result of alcohol or drug problems”, it can be difficult to pinpoint which cases these are. Seniors who go to the doctor frequently for complaints that have no identifiable cause should be screened for alcohol or drug addiction, yet not many are. Lack of training in the signs of addiction in seniors will lead many health care providers to diagnose issues with dementia, memory loss, diabetes, or depression without getting to the root cause that is addiction.

When a Senior Needs Addiction Treatment

There are times when a senior is going to need addiction treatment in order to stop abusing substances. The goal for anyone struggling with addiction is the same, to stop relying on drugs or alcohol to begin living a healthier life. The treatment should be empathetic, with a clear message that addiction can be treated no matter the age of the person.

Some treatment providers don’t focus on addiction with seniors with the thought that it’s too late for treatment or it is not worth treating seniors for addiction. This is not fair for seniors who have an addiction that can be treated, as the quality of life for them can greatly improve. It doesn’t matter how much time a person may have left, as the quality of life should matter the most.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “While substance abuse in older adults often goes unrecognized and therefore untreated, research indicates that currently available addiction treatment programs can be as effective for them as younger adults.” It is important not to minimize the effects of substance abuse on the overall wellness of an individual, no matter what age they are. Treatment for addiction in seniors is both effective and important, giving seniors a better chance at living a healthy life.

How Treatment is Provided for Senior Substance Abuse

Any senior who comes forward wanting help for an addiction should be treated with empathy and respect. The communication should be clear and look at the variety of issues a senior may regularly face. It is when you take into consideration the way in which you communicate with an elderly individual and how you present topics, that treatment will be a different.

It is important to rule out any medical causes of the symptoms that are present. Substance abuse may not be the answer to a senior’s complaints of pain, confusion or depression. The loss of a spouse, job, or no longer being able to drive can all lead a one down a path of depression that is not caused by substance abuse. Careful evaluation is necessary to rule out underlying health problems in conjunction with screening for substance abuse issues.

Like anyone who is struggling with an addiction, seniors will benefit from a supportive atmosphere. When clients are able to talk about their struggles with addiction openly in a professional, empathetic atmosphere, true recovery can occur. It isn’t easy to admit you struggle with an addiction, but the help you find at a professional treatment center is worth taking the risk. Through peer support and learning relapse prevention strategies, seniors can withdraw safely from substances and move forward in their lives in a healthier way. Education around safe practices is important for anyone who needs help with addiction, but particularly true for seniors who may need a number of prescription medications to control health conditions.

When seniors learn about the effects drugs or alcohol are having on their cognition or physical abilities, they are better able to make sound decisions around drug or alcohol use. Some seniors start drinking “to take the edge off” without realizing their behavior is out of their control. Education can go a long way in helping a senior who has an addiction better understand what is going on with their health when they abuse substances.

Treatment Begins with Supervised Detox

The first step in any recovery program for seniors is to detox safely from the drugs or alcohol. This can be more complicated for seniors, who are overall less healthy than younger people and more susceptible to harsh symptoms of withdrawal. While people of any age experience withdrawal symptoms, the effects can be more detrimental for a senior who is trying to withdraw from substances.

After detox, it’s important to continue working on the emotional and behavioral pieces of addiction to gain a better handle on sobriety as a whole. A senior may be surprised to learn that they have an addiction and may not have realized the danger they were putting themselves in by mixing certain medications with alcohol.

Treatment providers are not always clear with seniors regarding medications and alcohol consumption. The thought that it’s too late for help is prevalent among treatment for seniors and is not the best way to manage addiction.

Medication interactions with both alcohol and illegal substances are a common reason for emergency room visits, especially for those who take more than one type of medication. Individual therapy is always recommended for anyone who struggles with addiction. Therapy provides seniors with a person to talk to who is going to have a neutral position when it comes to their substance use issues.

While a senior may have trouble talking to a family member or friend about their addiction, a therapist is easier to talk to. Seniors need to have a safe person to talk to when it comes to an addiction and treatment.

Treatment for addiction in seniors is not only possible, it is essential to the health and well-being of those living with addiction who are older. The best facilities offer seniors a safe, supportive environment to learn more about addiction and withdraw from substances effectively.The treatment involves working closely with a counselor, attending group sessions, and learning about the effects that drugs or alcohol can have on the mind and body. Through a careful look at personal habits and attitudes, it is possible to recover from addiction no matter what age an individual is.

Reasons Seniors Might Use Drugs or Alcohol

The reasons seniors might turn to drugs or alcohol are universal. Many recovery facilities treat seniors who began using substances out of loneliness after a loss of a spouse, siblings or friends. Seniors are at a higher risk for isolation, and this can bring out addictive behavior in some individuals. As navigating life becomes more difficult, some turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort. Like other adults, some seniors become addicted to prescription pain killers and don’t know how to stop or even realize they have an addiction to overcome.

What Drug or Alcohol Addiction Looks Like with Seniors

Drug or alcohol addiction among seniors generally has a subtler appearance. While a working adult might struggle getting to work each day or show signs of physical health problems, an older adult doesn’t generally have a tight schedule to keep. Drug or alcohol addiction signs can be easier to miss, as older adults are also showing signs of deteriorating health because of age.

Signs that a senior is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction include:

    • Habitual drinking that is a routine that can’t be broken.
    • Drinking at home alone or using substances in private. Using medications off-label and requiring additional prescriptions. A senior may state that a pain medication has been lost or stolen in an effort to get more.
    • Newly developed depression or a lack of interest in regular activities. While loss of ability can lead to a lack of interest in participating in activities, so can substance abuse.
    • Frequent trips to medical providers complaining of pain that does not have an identifiable source.
    • Chronic use of sleep aids or tranquilizers.
    • Getting intoxicated despite serious prescription medication warnings.
    • Confusion or memory loss that comes and goes with no clear reason why.

Cortisol can reduce cravings for those addicted to heroin

A calm mind slows the aging process

A calm mind reduces anxiety, boosts the immune system, gives you a good sleep, fights infection and inflammation and may slow the aging process.

Brain supplements to calm the mind are omega 3, Vitamin B complex, melatonin, magnesium with calcium, potassium, Vitamin D and boron.

Connie Dello Buono

My 82 yr old mom asked for pain killer and her doctor prescribed Tramadol

My own strategies for Combating the Opioid Crisis: Intervention and Prevention at the Community Level

  1. Education
  2. Empowerment with personalized, holistic , functional and integrated approach

I believe in health education and providing the knowledge that is personalized and integrated to combat the opioid crisis in this country.

When my 82 yr old mom asked for pain killer and her doctor prescribed Tramadol, I told her doctor that I know one senior who died of Tramadol addiction. So, we went home without the Tramadol prescription. My mom is only taking one prescribed med, an anti-hypertensive med. In the past when she takes a prescribed anti-arthritis med, she has so many side effects that she discontinued taking the med.

So, I coaxed my mom and her doctor to use other non-narcotic and safer pain killers.

When we went home, I massaged my mom, provided whole foods and she continued use of her Zyflamend or Wholemend with turmeric, ginger and oregano capsule. And when the pain is not bearable, she takes Tylenol or Aleve.

What is your strategy to combat the Opioid Crisis?

Connie Dello Buono



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