B.C. health researchers hope a new study will help them find out what leads some kids to just experiment with drugs, tobacco and alcohol while others become addicted.
"It'll look at what are the risk factors that shift kids from experimenting with drugs to more problematic use. During adolescence, the brain is very vulnerable to addiction," said Dr. Chris Galliford Richardson, an University of B.C. researcher who has received more than
$1 million in funding for the study from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.
The study is to commence in the fall of 2009. It will follow between 5,000 and 10,000 kids through high school, asking them to fill out online surveys every six months.
The students will be asked questions on health as well as such topics as physical development, social situations, substance abuse, self-esteem, risk-taking, sensation-seeking, independence, depression and stress.
While the current funding will support the study for three years, if it meets with success, more money might be made available to follow the students all the way through high school.
"This is one of the first large cohort studies focusing on substance use and psycho-social development in adolescence in Canada," Richardson said.
Gender -- which Richardson defines as "what's between your ears" versus sex as "what's between your legs" -- will also be looked at.
The survey will be introduced in the schools, but kids who drop out will hopefully be kept on board through contact via e-mail and networking websites such as Facebook.
That's one advantage of using the Internet to conduct the research, Richardson said. Other advantages include access to kids in rural and remote areas and the flexibility and low cost of the survey.
The researchers will work with school and health authorities to find practical ways of implementing what they learn from the study data.
"The big one is giving feedback both to schools and parents on what are the big risk factors for substance use," Richardson said.
Eventually, the online survey may analyze each student's input and provide personalized health resource recommendations.
"Here's some feedback to help with making it through high school, because it is such a stressful time," said Richardson, "That's where we really see it going in the future."