The Relationship between School Absenteeism and Substance Use: An Integrative Literature Review

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Substance Use and Misuse

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Background: Chronic school absenteeism is prevalent among high school students in the United States. Its impacts on academic success and health are cause for concern. One specific area of concern is its relationship to youth substance use; chronic absenteeism is associated with using alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and other drugs. Despite important findings, absent from the literature is a recent and systematic synthesis of related research. Objective: We aimed to examine the literature to provide a better understanding of the relationship between chronic school absenteeism and the use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs among U.S. high school students. Methods: We conducted an integrative review of existing peer-reviewed literature using key terms in five databases from the education and health sectors. We included English-language, quantitative and qualitative studies published between 1992 and October 2017 and focused on U.S. students in grades 9 through 12 and between ages 13 and 21. We extracted data and study quality measures for included studies. Results: After screening 3,130 articles using titles and abstracts and reviewing 99 full-text articles, 37 met inclusion criteria. Most were cross-sectional, used local-level data, widely varied in sampling, were of limited generalizability, and simultaneously considered school absenteeism and the use of multiple substances. Due to methodological issues, the relationship between chronic absenteeism and substance use is difficult to fully understand. Conclusions: We confirm the connection between school absenteeism and substance use among U.S. youth, highlight a limited understanding of how and why this relationship manifests, and call for absenteeism research that uses longitudinal methods, national data, and clearly articulated methodologies and self-appraised limitations.


Chronic school absenteeism; Truancy; Youth substance use; Youth marijuana use; Youth alcohol use; Youth tobacco use; Youth drug use; Education-health nexus


Public Health | Secondary Education | Substance Abuse and Addiction



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