Father’s Prison Stay Associated with Child’s Drug Use

Young people who begin using marijuana in adolescence often stop using the drug by their early adulthood. However, early initiation can introduce an individual to other unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol use and the use of other illegal drugs. It is important to understand the risk factors for a teen vulnerable to trying marijuana in order to produce effective education and prevention programs.

A recent study examined the association between incarcerated males and the drug usage of their children, focusing specifically on marijuana among other drugs. The research was published in the journal Addiction and identified an association between a father’s incarceration and a substantial increase in risk for illegal drug use during adolescence and young adulthood.

According to the study’s authors, there has been a significant increase in the number of children with incarcerated parents. In 1975 there were 250,000 incarcerated persons. By 2006 that number had jumped to 2,250,000 persons.

The researchers utilized data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which is a nationally representative sample of adolescents that followed adolescents enrolled in school in 1995 as they entered into adulthood. The data was used to determine whether an association existed between incarceration of fathers and drug use by the child.

The results of the analysis revealed that 51 percent of young men and nearly 40 percent of young women who had a father with a history of incarceration reported use of marijuana. Their counterparts, whose fathers had never been incarcerated, used marijuana at a rate of 38 percent for males and 28 percent for females.

While peak use of marijuana for those without an incarcerated father was at the age of about 20, youth with incarcerated fathers used marijuana well into their twenties. A biological father with a history of incarceration also elevated risk for the use of other illegal drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

The results of the study indicate that youth with a biological father incarcerated have an elevated risk for using illegal drugs. This finding is significant because not only are there physical consequences of using an illegal drug, but there are other adverse outcomes linked to drug use, such as increased crime, lost work productivity and the potential financial burden of seeking substance abuse treatment.
The research highlights the need for increased education and prevention efforts in communities where there is a high rate of incarcerated fathers.
The authors of the study are careful to point out that the research was an observational examination of associations, and should not be accepted as a scientific study providing evidence for a causal relationship.