Parents and Drugs

A search was made to assess what research has been done in the areas of parent surveys and parent programmes for drug prevention with children – most research on drug prevention education has been done in the late 1970s, early and mid 1980s. In regard to parent surveys, a study entitled ‘Parents’ Attitudes Towards Drugs’ (International Research, Central Office of Information) was done in England and Wales (1985). This survey was the only one found and was administered some time ago. However, it assessed parents’ attitudes, beliefs and knowledge about drugs; whether parents or schools should be doing drug prevention work; how parents would cope if they found their children were using drugs; parental responsibility; whether parents had seen any drug abuse leaflets, ads, or other publicity; and the presence of a drug problem in their areas.

Pertinent findings from this survey included:

45% felt that there was a big drug problem in their area,
58% of parents believed they did not know enough about drugs,
87% said they would take total responsibility if they found out their child was using drugs (10% would take partial responsibility, 1% would not take any and 2% did not know).
A survey of youth attitudes in the same year included the question “If you had problems with drugs and wanted help, who would you turn to?” Of respondents, 56% mentioned one parent or both, specifically:
Mother: 23%
Father: 5%
Parents: 28%
Specific research on parental influence and the need for parental involvement in prevention programming showed the importance of parents. Many of these studies come from America. One study assessed family risk factors for alcohol and other drug use (Kumpfer, 1987). These risk factors included:
Parental dependency and family history of dependency
Parental psychological and social dysfunction
High levels of family conflict
Family social isolation
Special needs/special problem children
Non-nurturant and ineffective parenting
The family has been found to be very much involved in “the initiation, maintenance, cessation and prevention of drug use’ (Coleman, 1980). In assessing adolescent correlates, Young and West (1985) concluded that ‘the family has the greatest influence on alcohol and other drug use.” Family influences were cited as correlated with alcohol use in 52% of the articles reviewed, in 46% of the time in marijuana use, 80% of the time in illicit drug use and in 59% of the studies of general drug use. A 1984 study by Harford found that “both abstinence and drinking in parents are frequently paralleled by abstinence or drinking in their adolescent children.”
It has been found that “children are influenced most by the adults in their lives when they are young, prior to the onset of peer influence. Parents of young children should be aware of what they model for their children” (Benard, et al. 1987). Parents can influence children through even their use of prescription and over the counter medicines (Perkins and McMurtrie-Perkins, 1986). Research indicates that children are at greatest risk of beginning to use alcohol and marijuana before the age of 15, and thus, need to learn resistance skills “preferably before age 9 and no later than age 12. Fortunately, many children at these ages are opposed to drug use and are receptive to parents’ efforts to teach them skills that reinforce their current attitudes.” (Hawkins, et al. 1988).

In a 1987 study by Catalano of 10 to 15 year olds, 36% of 10 year olds, 54% of 13 year olds and 79% of 15 year olds had already refused an offer of alcohol or another drug. These students mentioned their parents most often as the single most important reason for refusing alcohol or other drugs. Hawkins (1988) also found that establishing a clear family position on alcohol and other drugs provides children with the motivation to refuse these offers.

Research on specific parent programmes for preventing drug use in children was difficult to find and one journal stated there is a need for more studies in this area. Family-focused programmes that improve parenting and family management skills are seen as promising prevention strategies for alcohol and other drug use. One reason for this is that parents “can be trained to be effective change agents and their effect will be enduring and powerful” Kumpfer (1988) and Alvy (1985) believed that parent training is “a necessary component of any comprehensive prevention plan that can affect a wide range of social and health problems.” Most successful programmes train parents by addressing effective parenting through groupwork, videos/films, games, manuals, and exercises. Practice in the home is encouraged to reinforce skills.

Bry (1985), after reviewing research on the topic, concluded that “family involvement is very important, if not essential, for positive outcomes in prevention programmes. She found that when families are included in school programmes, risk factors can be reduced and early signs of problems can be reversed. A l986 study showed that three months of targeted family problem solving training reduced drug use and a correlate (school-failure) by the end of a 16 month follow-up, while control group behaviours in this study remained the same.

From existing studies, it has been shown that when parents do attend a drug prevention education programme, they are responsive. It has been found that parents will change their approach to parenting, but behaviour has not been examined. Very few studies have examined changes in children as a result of parent training, but those that tested the children have shown reductions in their use of tobacco and alcohol (National Institute on Drug Abuse: Bry. 1983).

In some studies, even the parents reduced their use of tobacco and drugs (National Institute on Drug Abuse: Flay and Sobel, 1983). Also, it has been found that school-based efforts will be more successful if combined with a parent component (National Institute on Drug Abuse: Leukefeld, 1988).

Many different research designs have shown the effectiveness of parent training in reducing problem behaviours in children (1988). Parent training can help reduce children’s behaviours that are precursors of drug use and increase positive behaviours such as school achievement, social skills and family involvement (Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986).

Three other studies were found that examined parent programmes. However, in all cases, the parent programme was a component of more comprehensive programming and was not individually assessed. For example, a 1987 study examined a school programme which included parent groups to learn about the drug problem and monitor their children’s behaviour, community meeting with key community members; coalitions and work in schools (teacher education, prevention curricula and policy). This comprehensive programme was found to decrease drug related incidents in the school and improve academic achievement.

Another prevention project including parent education and organisation, school-based education for children, mass media programming, community organisation and health policy was assessed in 1989 (Pentz, Dwyer, et al). There were 42 schools that participated and were assessed. Findings showed that prevalence rate for cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana were significantly lower at the one-year follow-up study. The net increase in drug use prevalence in schools receiving prevention programming was half that of other schools.

Finally, “Family Effectiveness Training” was assessed in 1989 (Szapocznik, Santisteban, et al) and looked at families who had the risk factors for developing a drug abusing adolescent. Results showed that families undergoing this training had greater improvement than did control groups on measures of family functioning, problem behaviour by adolescents and child self concept. Results were maintained at a six-month follow-up study.

Source: Susan Kaplin, Research Officer. Life Education Centres. April 1992 updated 1997.

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