This study examined the prospective relationship of substance use and mental health problems with risk of discontinuous enrollment in college.
Participants were 1,145 students at a large public university who were interviewed annually for four years beginning at college entry in 2004 (year 1). Discontinuous enrollment was defined as a gap in enrollment of one or more semesters during the first two years (early discontinuity) or the second two years (late discontinuity) versus continuous enrollment throughout all four years. Explanatory variables measured in year 1 were scores on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and the Beck Anxiety Inventory, childhood conduct problems, cannabis use, number of illicit drugs used, and alcohol consumption. In years 3 and 4, participants reported lifetime history of clinically diagnosed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, and anxiety, including age at diagnosis. Multinomial logistic regression models were developed to evaluate the association between the independent variables and discontinuous enrollment while holding constant background characteristics.
Higher BDI scores predicted early discontinuity but not late discontinuity, whereas cannabis and alcohol use predicted only late discontinuity. Receiving a depression diagnosis during college was associated with both early and late discontinuity. Self-reported precollege diagnoses were not related to discontinuous enrollment once background characteristics were taken into account.
Students who experience depressive symptoms or seek treatment for depression during college might be at risk of interruptions in their college enrollment. Cannabis use and heavy drinking appear to add to this risk. Students entering college with preexisting psychiatric diagnoses are not necessarily at risk of enrollment interruptions.