Drinking may be the beginning, not the end of a teen's troubles. Contrary to popular belief, drinking could be a cause of social isolation and poor grades in school for teens.

Many believe that a teen turns to drinking to escape problems. A feeling of isolation, depression and stress of not fitting in or doing poorly in school have been some of the reasons given as to why teens turn to alcohol. In a new study, researchers found that the opposite was true.

Teens using alcohol were not social butterflies rather they felt like wallflowers and outcasts in a new study led by Robert Crosnoe, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, Aprile Benner, PhD, assistant professor of human ecology at the University of Texas at Austin and Barbara Schneider, PhD, professor of sociology and education at Michigan State University.

Researchers collected data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health of 8,271 teens from 126 schools. Drinking among teens was not a social behavior that united teens; rather teen drinkers reported feeling lonely and not being able to fit in at school. This effect was even greater in schools where teens avoided alcohol and had a stronger sense of community among the student population.

For the study, researchers took into consideration a teen's ethnicity, race, gender and socioeconomic and researchers analyzed grade point averages. Feelings of isolation and declining grades were directly linked. For teen drinkers who feel like outcasts, they may be focusing more on fitting in and worrying about their social status, causing their grades to slip. A feeling of isolation caused grades to drop around 0.3 points per year, according to researchers.

The study does not conclude that teen drinkers would do better in a school setting with more teen drinkers, but rather that there needs to be a focus on drinking in seemingly positive school environments as well as problematic schools where drinking may be more common.

More importantly, the study highlights that school is more than just grades. Teens develop socially throughout high school and poor grades are not just a reflection of a risky behavior like drinking but underlying emotions of isolation. Rather than assuming poor grades and isolation are causing a teen's drinking the opposite might be true where a teen's drinking leads to a sense of isolation among peers and poor grades.

The study was published in Journal of Health and Social Behavior.