National Post

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Tuesday, August 31, 1999

Study links teen drug, alcohol use to trouble with father
David Ho
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Teenagers who don't get along with their fathers in two-parent families are more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs than those raised by single mothers, according to a new survey that examines how different family types affect youth substance abuse.

Children raised by their mothers alone were 30% more likely to use drugs than those living in supportive two-parent homes. But those with two parents who have poor relationships with their fathers have a 68% greater risk, said a report made public by the private National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

"This should be a wake-up call for dads across America," Joseph Califano, chairman of the centre, said yesterday. "Every father should look in the mirror and ask: 'How often do I eat meals with my children? Take them to religious services? Help them with their homework?' "

In the telephone survey of 2,000 youths ages 12 to 17 and 1,000 parents, more than twice as many teens said they found it easier to talk to their mothers than their fathers about drugs.

Researchers assessed teens' risk of drug use by asking questions including whether they had friends who use drugs and if they thought they would use drugs themselves in the future. The study found that 14 million teenagers fell into the moderate- or high-risk groups.

More than 70% of the teens said they had very good or excellent relationships with their mothers, but only 58% said they got along as well with their fathers.

Mothers influence their children's important decisions three times as often as fathers and are more likely to have private talks about drugs, the study found.

"Too often, people think of the parenting role as the mother's job, and this reminds us that the family is the children, the mother and the father, where possible," said H. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Clark advised parents to take the survey results as a "back-to-school" reminder. Parents should be supportive and ask questions instead of making accusations and giving orders, he said.

Speaking to children about drugs should start early because "the opportunity for parents to impact their teen's thinking about illegal drugs diminishes as the teen gets older," the survey's authors said. They found that 34% of 12-year-olds reported excellent relationships with their parents, but that number plummets to just 14% by the time the children turn 17.

Confirming recent studies that overall youth substance abuse has levelled off, the survey found that 40% of teens said the drug situation at school is getting worse, down from 55% in 1998. And more teens, 60%, said they don't expect to use a drug in the future, an increase of nine percentage points since 1998.

Parents were more pessimistic, with 45% thinking their children will someday use drugs. Mr. Califano said this "parental resignation often reflects their own drug-using behaviour" and that of those parents who had tried marijuana, 58% thought their kids would try as well.

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