Drug, alcohol use lower in strong families

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Teenagers who grow up in a more structured family environment report less drug use in later years. According to a new study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind Poll, high schoolers who talked with their parents and had regular family activities were less likely to use marijuana while in their twenties. The results also show the large number of young New Jerseyans who are turning to prescription drugs, rather than traditional illegal substances like cocaine and heroin. Public service announcements regarding drugs also seem to have some effect on drug use.

Those respondents to the study who had a more positive family environment while in high school were less likely to use marijuana, and while they were not less likely to use alcohol, they were less likely to abuse it. Individuals with a positive family environment – whose parents always knew where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing, among other things –  had only a 23% chance of using illegal drugs, while those whose parents never knew had a 47% chance of using illegal drugs at some time, all else being equal. Teenagers with a more positive family environment were also less likely to have problematic drinking patterns such as drinking in the morning, or feeling guilty about drinking.

"One of the best ways for parents to protect their kids from substance abuse is to spend time with them - talk, eat dinner, know where they are and what they're doing," said Joseph P. Miele, Chairman and founder of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey. "Positive family environments protect children not only through their adolescence, but into adulthood.”

In addition to parents knowing where their children are, and what they are doing, a teenager's family environment also includes such factors as perceived family communication and having dinner with family on a regular basis. 37% say they had dinner with their families fewer than 5 nights a week while in high school, about the same number as had dinner with their families 6 or 7 nights a week. Only a third of respondents say that their parents always knew where they were when they went out, and only 16% say that their parents always knew what they were doing.

Having both parents present in the home was not associated with fewer drinking days, but it did seem to lead them to fewer drinks in an outing, as well as fewer problems associated with drinking.

“The findings show how a caring and supportive family environment can protect adolescents from future abuse of alcohol and drugs,” said Dr. Stephen Armeli, an associate professor of psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

All told, the sample of young people aged 21 to 30 reported drinking an average of 6 to 7 days a month, and consuming 3 to 4 drinks when they did. They also reported drinking enough to get drunk about 20% of the time that they drank. While marijuana use was less prevalent in the sample – only 7% of the sample reported using marijuana in the last week, though a majority had used it at least once – marijuana smokers used the drug an average of 11 to 12 days a month, compared to an average of 6 or 7 days a month for alcohol use.

A relatively small portion of the sample reported having used illegal drugs other than marijuana, such as cocaine, heroin and ecstasy. However, nearly a quarter of the sample (24%) reported having used prescription drugs not prescribed by their doctor in the past, compared with 18% who had used ecstasy and 4% who had used heroin. Also, unlike many parts of the country, use of methamphetamines among young people in New Jersey appears to be relatively infrequent, with only 7% of respondents reporting having ever used it, and less than one percent having used it in the last month.

“This survey is in line with national research that has shown an increase in the misuse of prescription medication. The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey has and will continue to promote public awareness of this alarming trend,” said Angelo M. Valente, Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey Executive Director.

Public service announcements regarding drugs also seem to have some impact on use of drugs and alcohol. Participants who reported seeing drug and alcohol related PSAs drank alcohol about one day fewer than other respondents. Moreover, those who said that PSA ads made individuals more aware of problems associated with drugs and alcohol were more likely to abstain from marijuana use.

“Although the research can't prove that it was the family environment that led to the outcomes, it does show that we need to look more at how family and the availability of prevention information impacts drug use among adults." said Armeli.

The panel consisted of 251 young people ages 21 to 30 currently resident in New Jersey who had attended high school in New Jersey, and was conducted from November 28th through December 3rd 2006.


Contacts: PDFNJ- Angelo Valente 201.798.7171 FDU- Dan Cassino 973.896.7072

For more information, please call (973) 443-8661.

Copyright © 2007, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 070307]