A new study recently released by Pediatrics, reports “Tweens” who think marijuana is acceptable, may be more likely to drive drunk or ride with a driver who has been drinking by the time they reach high school.
Researchers followed nearly 1,200 students in middle school from 2009 to 2013. The kids were assessed at ages 12, 14 and again at 16. Scientists found that positive beliefs about marijuana and the confidence they had in their ability to not use marijuana when they were 12 were significant predictors of later drinking and driving. Or even riding with someone who had been drinking by the time they got to high school.
“Those with positive beliefs toward marijuana at the age of 12, and those who believed they could resist marijuana, were at an even higher risk of driving while impaired or riding with a drunk driver by the time they get to high school” said lead researcher Brett Ewing, a statistical project associate at RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, California.
“We need to target youth by the time they get to middle school, and start the discussion with them on how to make healthy decisions,” says Ewing.
Ewing added that, for 14 year olds, drinking, as well as having a positive belief about marijuana, and having friends and family members who drink or use marijuana were all strong predictors of driving while drunk in high school. The study, however, only found an association between attitudes about marijuana and later drinking and driving. A cause-and-effect link has not been established.
Starrla Penick, national program director at Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), added, “Teens who do not start drinking until they are at least 21 years of age are 85 percent less likely to be in a car accident than those who start drinking before the age of14.”
Studies show, tweens who start drinking early are more likely to drive drunk later in life and also be willing to get into a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking. The goal is have parents teach their kids at an early age to fight the pressures of their peers. Start talking specifically about the dangers of alcohol and drugs like marijuana and continue the discussion throughout their teen years.
Colleen Sheehey-Church, national president of MADD, said, “This study validates what we have seen for a while.”
Sheehey-Church, lost her own teenage son in a car accident driven by a drunk driver, she says, “I can’t say enough about how important it is that kids beliefs about alcohol and marijuana need to be changed so they avoid those dangers and protect themselves and their friends.”
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