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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A University of Tennessee study shows that alcohol and drugs are involved in many Tennessee teens’ decision to quit school.

 Dr. Sandra Putnam, director of UT-Knoxville’s Community Health Research Group, said the study could help education officials find ways to keep more students in school.

 Interviews were conducted with 338 former students ages 16-19 who left school — most less than three years ago — with no diploma or GED, Putnam said.

 The main reasons for quitting were general dislike of school, problems with pregnancy or child care, discipline, academics and money.

 Most of these problems, Putnam said, are caused by alcohol and drug use which affects behavior, concentration, judgment and lifestyles.

 The UT study shows that among dropouts:

 * 90 percent have used alcohol in the past, and 30 percent still do. Of current users, 55 percent have been drunk in the last month; 54 percent drink and drive; 44 percent are heavy drinkers, and 11 percent drink daily.

 * 23 percent have been addicted to drugs, and 14 percent are addicted now; 25 percent have received formal treatment for it, mostly while incarcerated.

* 30 percent have illegally sold drugs; 23 percent have been arrested for incidents involving drugs, and 19 percent for alcohol.

 * About half have been arrested for other offenses, including assault, burglary, stolen vehicles and weapons charges. Of these, 31 percent reported using alcohol or drugs at the time of the incident.

 * School dropouts are 25 percent more likely to use alcohol than those who stay in school; 62 percent more likely to use marijuana and twice as likely to use cocaine or crack.

“Excess use of alcohol and drugs sets these youth apart from those of the same age who have stayed in high school,” Putnam said. “Their use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs may be influential in their decision to leave high school or be dismissed by authorities.”

 The State Department of Education reports nearly one in five Tennessee ninth graders — about 15,000 per year — drop out of school before the end of 12th grade.

 Putnam said little is known about these youths.

“What we do know is that (dropouts) face higher unemployment, low-paying jobs, increased poverty and health problems, lack of health insurance and other serious opportunity gaps compared to those who finish high school,” Putnam said.

“Knowing what happens to these former students once they leave high school can increase schools’ responsiveness to students’ needs and help others like them complete high school.

 “Chief among the services directed at helping these youth should be alcohol and drug treatment and prevention services.”

 The UT study was sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Health, Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

 Contact: Dr. Sandra Putnam (423-974-4511)