The Effects of Drugs Abuse on Adolescents: Academic Perfomance in Triangle


This chapter discusses the theories that explain the causes of drug abuse and how drug abuse affects academic performance to adolescents who abuse drugs. This chapter also reviews various academic literatures on drug abuse and its effects to better understand how adolescents at Terry Goss, Mufakose and Mutilikwi Secondary schools consume drugs.

Conceptual framework


Adolescence is a Latin word adolescere which implies to grow. Adolescence refers to a stage of physical and mental human development that happens between childhood and adulthood (Berk, 2007). The ages that are considered to be part of adolescence vary according to the culture and ranges from pre-teens to young adults of 19 years (Berk, 2007). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), childhood covers the duration of life between 10 and 20 years of age. This transition involves biological (i.e., pubertal), psychological, and social adjustments (Shaffer & Kipp, 2007). In this study, adolescence refers to a transitional stage of development between childhood and adulthood, 12 – 21years.

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A drug is a chemical used in the treatment, cure, prevention or diagnosis of ailment or to enhance bodily and mental well-being (Kring, Davison, Neale & Johnson, 2007; Pressly & McCormick, 2007). Furthermore, a drug additionally refers to chemical elements that have an effect on the central nervous system, such as tobacco, alcohol, dagga, cocaine, and heroin. These drugs are used for perceived really useful consequences on perception, consciousness, character and behaviour (Craig & Baucum, 2008). These chemical substances, both medicinal and non-medicinal can be administered in a number of ways; orally, inhaled, injected and rectally (Butcher, Mineka, Hooley, & Carson, 2004). These can be legal or illegal. In this study, drug refers to legalised and non-legalised substance abused by means of adolescents, which are used for each medicinal and non-medicinal functions and which have a bad impact on their mind, thinking, perception, and their behaviour, for example, alcohol, cannabis, cocaine and heroin, broncleer. However the researcher will centre on the drugs commonly abused in Triangle for instance Broncleer, marijuana, musombodhiya.

Drug abuse

Drug abuse refers to chronic or habitual use of any chemical substance to alter states of physique or mind, different than medically warranted purposes leading to effects that are dangerous to the individual’s body or intellectual fitness or the welfare of others (Kring et al., 2007). In this study, substance abuse refers to the misuse of authorised products (prescription medications) and unauthorised products such as cocaine and cannabis, which are dangerous to adolescents’ well-being and the welfare of the society.

Drug dependence

Drug dependence refers to the uncontrollable craving and use of substances despite the potential or real harm to the individual and society that might also result from it (Rice & Dolgin, 2008). It includes each authorized and unauthorised substances. Those dependent on drugs are often unable to quit on their own and need treatment to help them to stop using the substances (Ciccheti, 2007). In this study drug dependence refers to continuing use of a drug by adolescents, despite the physical and psychological damage which will result from it.

Effects of drug abuse on adolescents academic performance

Specifically drug use may directly impair (cognitive) abilities which limit academic performance in adolescents (Tanner et al., 2001). Adolescents, who abuse drugs before they turn 15 are more likely to fail in school, became tolerant and dependent on drugs (Magnussen, 1988). Teenagers using drugs at this age can disrupt brain function in areas critical to motivation, memory, learning, judgement and behaviour control (Chirisa, 2017). Alternatively it could be that drug abuse during adolescence leads to the association with anti-social peer groups which in turn diminishes school engagement and increase other behavioural and social problems. Godley (2006) argued that outcomes such as school grades, attendance, school completion and dropouts are influenced not only by intellectual but also by motivational, social and behavioural components in addition to any effects on cognition and cognitive development. ( Government survey, 2007) in the United States showed that roughly, two thirds of the high achieving students were non abusers, while nearly half of the low achieving students reported excessive drug abusers. The poor pass rate can be attributed to antisocial behaviours such as alcohol abuse, cigarette and marijuana smoking. It is this background that inspired the researcher to carry out this study.

Poor academic achievement and deterioration of academic achievement should be consisted as risk factors for initiation of drug abuse among adolescents. Messing around with drugs can change the brain works naturally (Henry, 2006). Adolescents use cognitive enhancement drugs to increase attention. However, the use of stimulants like ritalin can impair performance of tasks that require adaptation, flexibility and planning (Rosenberg, 2015). Adolescents who receive low grades are more likely to have used cigarettes and other illicit drugs (Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration 1999). Drugs affect alertness, concentration, perception, coordination and reaction time that is they affect the developing brain by numbing it which often affects human cognitive process. This will negatively affect adolescents’ academic performance. However marijuana enhances the user’s power of concentration (Goode 1969) in Zimbardo (1990) it is therefore the importance of this research to educate adolescents of these dangers.

Studies mentioned by Krohn et al & Ellickson et al (2007) indicated that the outcomes of early marijuana use on subsequent educational attainment may also not be uniform throughout diverse subpopulations. This again suggests that the apparent consequences of early drugs are used as a substitute than any biological effects of drugs. As advised by an anonymous reviewer, given the recent expand in the incidence of drug use amongst youth, it is possible that as use turns into common and consequently less strongly associated with non-conformity the association between drug use and educational attainment will reduce.

Drug abuse may produce cognitive deficits

Curran et al. 2016) argued that, prolonged exposure to drug abuse produces specific deficits in cognition which impairs overall school performance and amplify the probability of leaving the school early. Converging proof from epidemiological and clinical trials with humans, as well as animal research, suggests that the major cognitive domains affected through continual exposure to substance and drug abuse are impulsivity, cognitive flexibility and attentional bias (Morris & Voon, 2016). Thus, attention and approach are disproportionately engaged by drug-associated stimuli, and there is decreased ability to inhibit or override this pressure (Campanella, 2016). In addition, persistent drug use can also affect acquiring knowledge and memory, as properly as being associated with suboptimal decision-making. However, drugs like adderall may additionally help to improve their cognition though non-stop use which result in irritability, changes in mood and personality, insomnia, and anxiety (Rosenberg, 2015). Therefore, this consistent prevalence in the everyday lifestyles of an adolescent, their overall performance would suffer hence; need to carry out the study in Triangle.

Social effects of drug abuse

The use of substances and drugs by adolescents has a bad impact on the welfare of society (Butcher et al., 2004). If these adolescents are no longer monitored, they end up getting involved in criminal activities such as robbery, theft, rape and homicide (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008). Their use of drugs endangers the lives of both their families and other community members (Donald, Lazarus & Peliwe, 2007). They come to be dangerous to everybody. They end up being rejected through the very society that is supposed to nurture and information them. That implies ethical decay. Furthermore, they will have criminal records even before finishing high school; that places them at threat of being expelled from schools, now not being established in tertiary establishments or securing employment due to the fact of a terrible record. Their future can also consequently be doomed due to their drug use.


Physiological and Psychological Factors

Adolescents may engage in drug abuse because they have learned to do so or because drugs give them pleasure (psychological experiences) which is the result of its action on natural reward systems in the brain (Hogan 2007).The pleasure these individuals experience from the drug abuse is influenced by their expectations of the drug’s effects which is related to the social learning of certain beliefs and values that maybe specific to given social and cultural contexts. Adolescents abuse drugs because it activates dopaminergic neurons in the mesolimbic reward pathway for example pleasant emotional experience. Adolescents also abuse drug for pleasure, to have fun, for entertainment or simply for curiosity. Wober (2007) states that, adolescents became addicted to or dependent upon Illegal Street drugs because drugs fulfil their need to withdraw or escape from painful reactions of life. Godley (2006) argued that adolescents believe that drug abuse offers a way to escape from school or relationships problem. Sometimes these drugs act as a substitute for pleasurable relationships, instructional accomplishments or self-fulfilment. However some drug abuser falls into it due to the fact they have been sexually abused.

Peer Pressure

It has been shown that students like to conform to peer pressure. A large scale (2006) survey, of over 8000 school students in New York State revealed that adolescents were of higher likelihood to use marijuana if their friends did than if they did not (Monshouwer 2007). In this study 92% reported their friends to be users in contrast to 7% who reported none of their friends used marijuana. It seems reasonable for adolescents using drugs is social conformity pressures.

Brown (1989) postulates that peer group affiliation will become particularly vital and influential in the course of adolescence. Group contributors tend to share common attitudes and behaviour and this is in particular proper of adolescent peer groups (Starkely 2009). Young students may conform to peer pressure as to be accepted by their peers. For one to be accepted in a group he/she has to conform to the rules of the group, for instance, if the rules and expectations are smoking mbanje or sniffing glue then one is likely to take one in order to be accepted as a member of the group. Therefore, it seems reasonable to note that, drug abuse maybe encouraged by social peer pressures and turn forms of basis for association among friends. Research also suggests that the use of drugs by other family members plays an important role in whether children start using drugs.

Availability of substances

The findings published that in spite of the excessive rate of poverty, the adolescents in this study can come up with the money to purchase drugs which appear simply accessible in their communities. This used to be also reported in preceding studies (Liddle & Rowe, 2006). Therefore, one may additionally expect that there are too many outlets that promote drugs and different substances and those teenagers have the capability to purchase these substances. Furthermore, it implies that laws prohibiting the sale of substances to minors are not instigated and determined to in small towns and estates. This then contradicts government approach of presenting services to previous disadvantaged areas and ensuring that all policies and legal guidelines protecting the rights of adolescents and minors are adhered to at all times.

Learned behaviour from others

Substance abuse is a learned behavior. The habit of abusing drugs is learned from adults who abuse the drugs and substances as a way of procuring happiness and relieving stress. The social learning theory postulates that the behaviors portrayed by these adolescents are learnt from home and from other community members (Rice & Dolgin, 2008). In cases of those adolescents whose parents are non-substance abusers, the behavior of abusing drugs is copied from other peers. Some studies say that children who have parents who are substance abusers also abuse drugs

Thus, adolescents learn to use substances from their peers and other adult figures in the community. This contradicts other findings that adolescents who abuse substances have parents who abuse substances (Conger, 1991). The majority of participants in this study had parents who did not use any form of substances. Adolescents can abuse substances even though there is no one in their families who uses substances. This study revealed that adolescents learn to use substances from their peers, other family members and other adults in their communities.


The television adverts, play a function in the use of elements by means of adolescents. Alcohol adverts inspire adolescents to have a wish to use substances. These adverts are appealing to them and have a persuasive impact on them. Adverts make young people conscious of new alcoholic liquids and tobacco products which they may also obviously prefer to taste. Adolescents are in a vulnerable stage in which they are likely to be persuaded via these messages (Martins and Harrison 2012). Some participants in this study additionally indicated that alcohol adverts inspire human beings to favour to use substances. All these elements have a negative impact on the lives of the adolescents.

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