Having a Half-Sibling May Increase Likelihood of Teen Drug Use

A study by researchers at Bowling Green State University and Iowa State University shows that half-siblings with a different father are significantly more likely to try drugs and sex before the age of 15 when compared with other teens that have only full siblings.

The research team, led by Karen Benjamin Guzzo of Bowling Green State University and Cassandra Dorius of Iowa State University, utilized information from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth in order to examine the effects of parents who have children with multiple partners. This is also known as multi-partnered fertility, or MPF.

Guzzo explained in a press release that for children that result from MPF, there are first-born children that have likely experienced the break-up of their parents. Those first-born children have not only experienced the break-up, but have also witnessed their mother living on her own, and then joining with a new partners and welcoming a new baby.

Children that have a half-sibling with a different father were approximately 65 percent more likely to have used an illegal drug by the age of 15 when compared with teens that have only full siblings. These drugs include inhalants, cocaine, uppers, hallucinogens, and various other illegal drugs.

In addition to being more likely to use drugs during their teen years, these teens were also more likely to have engaged in sexual activity, at a rate of 2.5 times that of their counterparts with no half-siblings.

The researchers found that the evidence was consistent even after controlling the results for various characteristics, such as socioeconomic factors and family stability.

When a teen begins using drugs or alcohol, there are many risks, both long-term and immediate. Immediate risks include an increased likelihood of injury, dangerous sexual behaviors that can lead to contraction of a sexually transmitted disease or an unplanned pregnancy and an increased risk of being involved in a vehicular accident.

Long-term risks associated with alcohol consumption include heart disease and certain types of cancer. The effects of abuse are varied depending on the drug, but in many cases the still-developing brain of a teenager suffers structural damage that can impact cognitive function permanently.

Many teens who begin experimenting develop a full-blown addiction by the time they reach early adulthood, a time marked with important decisions related to career, marriage and family. Substance abuse can impact decisions that affect the individual for life.

In addition, the teen that begins using drugs or alcohol exposes their body to the risks for a longer period of time when compared with an individual who begin as an adult.

The MPF study’s findings may be helpful in identifying high-risk teens that may benefit from targeted education and prevention efforts. Alerting teens to the fact that they may be at an increased risk for trying drugs may help them avoid the pitfalls of experimentation than can lead to a full addiction.

Starting a conversation with teens, including open dialogue about the risks and dangers associated with drugs and sex, may allow them freedom to make decisions about these important areas along with parental input.

Parents should also make the following clear: their expectations; what the rules are for substance use; and the consequences for not following those rules. Previous research has shown that parents remain the single most important influence over teens’ decisions.

Moms and dads may dismiss their potential impact in light of the heavy attention given to peer pressure and influence, but studies have shown that when a teen clearly understands their parents’ expectations and rules they are less likely to drink.