Alcohol and Marijuana Associated With Lower GPA

College girls

Substance abuse has always been strongly associated with poor grades, worse graduation rates and increased difficulty in finding and maintaining good jobs. According to a recent study, published on March 8, 2017, by Shashwath Meda from Hartford Hospital/Institute of Living, college students excessively abusing alcohol and marijuana had consistently lower GPA.

Current Trends

Alcohol and marijuana are the two most abused substances in US colleges. College students have always accounted for a large part of the population abusing drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. Even though alcohol abuse has continued to be a steady presence on college campuses, the type and prevalence of drugs has fluctuated over the years.

Marijuana use has reached a record high as it has become the most commonly abused illicit drug in colleges. A national survey showed nearly 60 percent of college students to have initiated marijuana use in college.

The number of students who used marijuana in the past year escalated from 30 percent in 2006 to 38 percent in 2015. Two-thirds believe marijuana to be safe. Meanwhile, consumption of other harder drugs has consistently dropped.

According to a national survey by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 60 percent of college students aged 18–22 consumed alcohol in the past month, and 2 out of 3 engaged in binge drinking.  About 20 percent of college students qualify as having Alcohol Use Disorder.

While the declining use of oxycontin, oxycodone, heroin, and the like is a positive trend, the rise in alcohol and marijuana abuse is quite disturbing. The belief that pot is okay and innocuous gives a false sense of safety. A person can still become addicted to marijuana and at some point, may require the services of a drug detox or addiction treatment program.

The Study

College studentsThis study took a closer look and conducted a thorough comparative assessment of grade point averages (GPAs) for U.S. students who start college. The students assessed, initiated their term with similar academic potential, but their consumption of marijuana and alcohol varied.

“The three groups did not differ in SAT scores at the beginning of college,” said Wayne Hall, of the Center for Youth Substance Abuse Research at the University of Queensland in Australia.
“That makes it less likely that less intellectually able students are more likely to get involved in heavy drinking and marijuana use,”

The students were categorized into three groups based upon their consumption of the two substances:

  • Those who consumed little or no alcohol or marijuana;
  • Those who drank a lot but didn’t smoke much marijuana;
  • Heavy users of both substances.

The association between college students’ alcohol and marijuana consumption and their GPA was assessed for each semester. The researchers utilized data from the Brain and Alcohol Research in College Students study.

This allowed the researchers to access data of 1,142 students for two years after they started college. Based on self-reported information, the students were then clustered into, groups of low users or medium-to-high users of alcohol or both substances.

Researchers discovered that students who were categorized as medium-to-high users of both alcohol and marijuana were predicted to have a lower average of college GPA by the end of their first semester. These students, however, continued to achieve lower GPAs throughout the two years of the study.

Students who consumed medium-to-high levels of alcohol but lower amounts of marijuana started off with lower predicted GPA, but no differences could be drawn when compared to low users at the conclusion of the study.

In College And Drug Addicted Library - Addiction HopeIn the first semester, the mostly sober student group had an average GPA of 3.1 and the heavy drinkers had an average GPA of 3.03.

The heavy drinkers and pot smokers lagged farther behind, with an average GPA of 2.66.

There were also students who lowered their substance use over time, and relative increases in their GPA were noticed compared to their fellw students who consistently abused these substances.

Even though the study only highlighted an association between substance use and lower GPA scores with lack of data on final GPAs and graduation rates, it does manage to enhance the perception of how alcohol and marijuana use significantly influences academic performance.

“Doing a lot of both drugs had a significant impact, in terms of lower grades in our study, and in other studies, with number of leaves of absences and those who dropped out of school,” stated Godfrey Pearlson, senior author of the study.

The researches reiterated that both alcohol and marijuana have the ability to impair memory, attention, executive function and the ability to identify visual and spatial differences among objects. These are all prominent factors that can contribute to a student’s decreased efficiency and lowered competency at not just studying, but retaining information in class as well.

Signs of Excessive Substance Abuse Amongst Students

Despite the variations in the signs and symptoms of substance abuse due to the choice of substance and extent of abuse, there are often some fundamental psychological patterns that can be noticed in those who are maintaining consistent patterns of abuse.

StudyingThese include:

  • A lowered interest in classes and extracurricular activities
  • Noticeable reductions in grades or academic performance
  • Fluctuations in sleeping patterns or weight
  • Engagements with new social circles, especially those with a reputation of substance abuse
  • Isolation from friends or being secretive
  • Unexplained alterations in behavior or personality
  • Uncharacteristic mood swings, depression or irritability

Addressing College Substance Abuse

Successful efforts to manage college substance abuse have typically involved a combination of strategies that focus on individual students, the student body and larger college community. It is vital to have education and awareness programs based upon motivation, understanding and cognitive skills. Behavioral interventions by counselors are essential.

Parents are also encouraged to discuss substance abuse and its repercussions openly with their children before they go off to colleges.


Sana Ahmed photoAbout the Author:

A journalist and social media savvy content writer with wide research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana Ahmed has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute focusing on mental health and addiction recovery, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.

Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. The art of using words to educate, stir emotions, create change and provoke action is at the core of her career, as she strives to develop content and deliver news that matters.



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 9, 2017
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.