Young Adult Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

The Advantages of a High School Diploma for Young Adults

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In the United States, one out of six students becomes a high school dropout and fails to make it to graduation day. This is an alarming statistic in this day and age, when a college degree represents much more than a green light to a future income. Of the 11.6 million jobs added to the US economy between 2010 and 2020, 99 percent have gone to workers with a least some college education. Hence, the effects of dropping out of high school go beyond missing a formative experience. Without this diploma, high school dropouts have limited opportunities for future success from an educational, employment, financial, or health perspective. 

“Of the 11.6 million jobs added to the US economy between 2010 and 2020, 99% have gone to workers with at least some college education.”

A large driver for students dropping out of high school is the opportunity to experiment with drugs and alcohol. At first, this can seem like a way to fit in with peers, but too often it leads to addiction. The effects of drugs on high school students can make it difficult to determine priorities, causing schoolwork and college applications to fall by the wayside. 

  • Cigarettes
  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Illicit drugs
  • Prescription drugs

High School Dropout Statistics

SAMHSA cited a study titled Substance Use Among 12th Grade Aged Youths by Dropout Status from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The study analyzed the behavior of youth ranging from 16 to 18 years old, including high school dropout rates. The findings point to a huge public health problem—high school dropouts have an elevated risk of substance use as compared to those who are still in high school. Further, from a socio-economic perspective, high school dropouts will be less likely to have adequate employer healthcare insurance to cover the costs of the medical issues that arise from substance abuse and the potential need for treatment.

More specifically, twelfth grade–aged high school dropouts are more likely to engage in cigarette use, alcohol use, illicit drug use, and marijuana use. The 2017 NSDUH study found a number of recent statistics to support this, including the following:

  • 56 percent of high school dropouts were current cigarette users,
    as compared to 20 percent of high school students.
  • 41 percent of high school dropouts were current alcohol drinkers,
    as compared to 34 percent of high school students.
  • 32 percent of high school dropouts were current binge drinkers,
    as compared to 22 percent of high school students.
  • 31 percent of high school dropouts were using illicit drugs in the past month, as compared to 18 percent of high school students. The study defines illicit drugs as marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, hallucinogens, heroin, or prescription drugs.
  • 28 percent of high school dropouts were current marijuana users, as compared to 16 percent of high school students.

These statistics are startling, with dropouts twice as likely to smoke cigarettes as compared to their classroom-bound counterparts. Further, dropouts are about 70 percent more likely to have recently used illicit drugs, including marijuana.

One aspect of the NSDUH’s study to note is that the data did not determine whether a teenager’s substance use preceded dropping out of high school or if it was an effect of dropping out of high school.

The Advantage of a High School Diploma
& Why It’s Worth It

For young adults in their 20s, working towards achieving a GED is a goal to achieve alongside the recovery process. According to an August 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, those who have less than a high school diploma have a higher unemployment rate at 5.7 percent, compared to a 3.9 percent unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma, and 2.1 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree. Further, high school graduates earn a national average of $8,000 more annually compared to high school dropouts.

Girl Graduation
Girl Graduation Copy

The good news is, no matter what stage of recovery you’re in, returning to high school is possible. Going back to school is also easier now that there are more alternative programs for high school dropouts, including online education and e-learning platforms.

“High school graduates earn a national average of $8,000
more annually compared to high school dropouts.”

Moreover, going back to school instills a sense of responsibility that can be difficult to foster outside of a structured environment. Specifically, for those struggling with co-occurring disorders—such as drug abuse alongside mental health issues—working in a productive environment creates momentum and a sense of community. Furthermore, getting into a routine encourages consistency and builds self-confidence. Working toward a degree gives young people opportunities to take pride in their achievements.

High School Dropout Consequences & Prevention

If you dropped out of high school, it’s important to realize that being a high school dropout doesn’t define you. Every individual takes a separate life path and reaches special milestones at different points in their lives. Rather than comparing yourself to others, it is important to focus on your own personal journey and the small positive steps you are making. 

If your struggle is centered around substance abuse and mental health issues, acknowledging your issues, taking action to get help, and remaining consistent with a recovery program is key to long-term success. It is never too late to turn things around and change the trajectory of your life. By re-enrolling in high school or one of the many alternative programs for high school dropouts, you can positively impact your present and future self. 

Given these statistics, keeping youth in school should become a top societal priority. Without question, there is a price to be paid by our whole society when young people drop out of high school.

The increased impact on public health occurs not only because of the elevated risk for drug abuse, but for the following issues as well:

  • Poverty
  • Lack of healthcare coverage
  • Increased number of health problems and illness

If you think you or a loved one is in need of substance abuse treatment, contact us to discover a potential path to healing. We believe it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to help you or a loved one get back on track towards living a healthy, fulfilling life. Our philosophy is that often substance abuse masks an underlying issue, which requires an integrated approach to healing. The path forward requires support, and whether or not Newport Institute is the right fit for you or your loved one, our commitment is to help you find a lifelong solution.


J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 202 Jan.
Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2002)
Lancet, 2019 Oct; 3 (10): 685-696
Psychol Sci, 2014 Oct.


Images: Elenor Rigby via Unsplash, Stephen
Hawking via Mental Floss

Co-Occurring Disorders / May 5, 2020

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