Study Finds Link Between Incarcerated Fathers and Drug Use Among Their Children

Posted on September 29th, 2010

Researchers have discovered that children whose fathers were incarcerated are more likely to use illicit drugs in adolescence and early adulthood. The study, published in the journal Addiction, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (a sample of adolescents who were periodically followed into their early- to mid-20s) and analyzed the link between having a biological father who was incarcerated and drug use.

The researchers, from Bowling Green State University, found that more than 51 percent of young men and almost 40 percent of young women whose fathers were jailed reported using marijuana. Among those whose fathers were never incarcerated, 38 percent of men and 28 percent of women reported illicit drug use. Young people with incarcerated fathers were also much more likely to use increasing amounts of marijuana into their mid-20s, compared with other youth whose marijuana use peaked around age 20.

Elevated use of other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines was also found among youth with incarcerated fathers. The number of people incarcerated in the United States has increased significantly over time, from around 250,000 in 1975 to 2,250,000 in 2006. The number of children with incarcerated parents—especially fathers—has also increased. Thirteen percent of young adults in the Untied States said their fathers had spent time in prison while they were children.

With the increasing number of incarcerated fathers, this study suggests that there is a significant amount of people who are at risk for substance abuse, which can lead to crime, violence, illness, and many other negative consequences.

Dr. Michael Roettger, lead author of the study and a Postdoctoral Fellow with the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, said that long-term drug use may worsen existing problems facing disadvantaged youth, such as mental health issues, domestic violence, poverty, and academic problems.

The researchers noted that the associations they found should not indicate a causal process. Dr. Raymond Swisher, a co-author of the study, said that further research is needed to better examine whether the father’s incarceration or a combination of other factors, such as criminality, family history of drug use, or family instability, drives the child’s eventual drug use.

Source: Science Daily, Father’s Incarceration Associated With Elevated Risks of Marijuana and Other Illegal Drug Use, Study Finds, September 29, 2010

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