BACKGROUND: Alcohol and marijuana are the two most abused substances in US colleges. However, research on the combined influence (cross sectional or longitudinal) of these substances on academic performance is currently scant.
METHODS: Data were derived from the longitudinal 2-year Brain and Alcohol Research in College Students (BARCS) study including 1142 freshman students who completed monthly marijuana use and alcohol consumption surveys. Subjects were classified into data-driven groups based on their alcohol and marijuana consumption. A linear mixed-model (LMM) was employed using this grouping factor to predict grade point average (GPA), adjusted for a variety of socio-demographic and clinical factors.
RESULTS: Three data-driven clusters emerged: 1) No/low users of both, 2) medium-high alcohol/no-low marijuana, and 3) medium-high users of both substances. Individual cluster derivations between consecutive semesters remained stable. No significant interaction between clusters and semester (time) was noted. Post-hoc analysis suggest that at the outset, compared to sober peers, students using moderate to high levels of alcohol and low marijuana demonstrate lower GPAs, but this difference becomes non-significant over time. In contrast, students consuming both substances at moderate-to-high levels score significantly lower at both the outset and across the 2-year investigation period. Our follow-up analysis also indicate that when students curtailed their substance use over time they had significantly higher academic GPA compared to those who remained stable in their substance use patterns over the two year period.
CONCLUSIONS: Overall, our study validates and extends the current literature by providing important implications of concurrent alcohol and marijuana use on academic achievement in college.