May 11, 2015
2 min read

Alcohol, marijuana use prevalent among children with chronic medical conditions

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SAN DIEGO — More than one-third of teenagers with chronic medical conditions reported alcohol use while one-fifth of these teenagers reported marijuana use — statistics comparable to substance use trends among healthy teenagers, according to data presented here.

“Roughly 1 in 4 kids are growing up in the US today with a chronic disease — including asthma, cystic fibrosis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease or juvenile idiopathic arthritis – and due to advances in treatment, they are actually surviving into adulthood,” Elissa R. Weitzman, ScD, MSc, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Adolescent Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “We know that substance use is highly prevalent and problematic for teenagers in general, however there is very little information about how these particular teenagers navigate those waters.  Do they even drink? Do they drink heavily? Do they smoke marijuana? How does that impact their self-management? How does it impact treatment adherence?”

To examine trends in alcohol and marijuana use, as well as knowledge, beliefs and screening among youth with chronic medical conditions, Weitzman and colleagues evaluated cross-sectional data from a structured electronic assessment of children aged 9 to 18 years (n=458) in subspecialty care for moderate persistent asthma, type 1 diabetes, a rheumatic or gastroenterological condition or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The researchers assessed data using descriptive statistics and logistic regression controlling for age, race and sex and adjusting for the multiclinic sample using generalized estimating calculations.

According to study results, 34% of teenagers with chronic conditions reported alcohol consumption in the past year while 18.7% reported past year marijuana consumption.

“We found that a third of high school teenagers from these populations are drinking, a third of which are binge drinking,” Weitzman told Infectious Diseases in Children. “Approximately 40% of teenagers reported using marijuana and/or alcohol in the past year, with just under 20% reporting using both. In addition, we found that when teenagers are drinking or binge drinking they have very high levels of treatment non-adherence.”

The researchers observed that, when asked if alcohol could interfere with their medicines, 64.5% of surveyed teenagers responded either “no” or “I don’t know”; another 50.3% of surveyed teenagers responded similarly when asked if alcohol could interfere with laboratory tests.

Additionally, the researchers noted that among high school aged teenagers who used marijuana in the past year, 37.9% reported substituting marijuana for alcohol since they believed alcohol to be more hazardous to their health. Among teenagers who actively used marijuana, 39.3% reported that marijuana helped their symptoms. – by Bob Stott


Weitzman ER, et al. Abstract #3897.434. Presented at: Pediatric Academic Societies 2015; April 25-28, 2015; San Diego.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.