A recent study shows that teens with absent parents tend to smoke nicotine and drink alcohol more than their peers. The study also explains why and how the connection is made. Read more to find out how adults in these teenagers’ lives can prevent them from substance abuse at this stage.

Teens may start smoking to reduce anxiety caused by parental absence

Teens may start smoking and drinking alcohol to reduce anxiety caused by parental absence

In a study published on October 10th in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, researchers have concluded that children who have absent parents start consuming alcohol and show an interest in nicotine much earlier than their peers. Not only that, but the same study has shown that picking up these harmful habits occurs much earlier than previous research has concluded. This means that an early intervention can be made when kids are still…well, kids!

This study lasted nine months, during which the research team has used the data from 11,000 children in the UK Millennium Cohort Study. They split them into two groups, according to one variable: the loss of a parent. 75% of the children selected for the study had lost a parent by the time they were 7 years-old. They were called “the experimental group”. The other 25% were the “control group” (these are terms most often used in scientific research).

The results

Then, the researchers have studies data about both groups from the time they were 7 to the time they were 11 years old. This is what they have found:

·         From the experimental group, twice as much boys than girls started smoking (3.6 boys, compared to 1.9 girls)

·         1 in 7 boys started drinking alcohol

·         1 in 10 girls started drinking alcohol

·         Compared to the control group, kids confronted with parental absence were twice more likely to start consuming alcohol and nicotine.

Understanding why

The dynamic of the connection between substance abuse (in this case alcohol and nicotine) and absent parents differs according to the reason parents were absent. Kids whose parents’ passed away were at a lower rick of picking up drinking and smoking than those whose parents were absentees for other reasons.

While growing up, one of the most important needs of a child is safety. In most cases, the parents are the main providers of a safe environment. When parents pass away, the child develops coping mechanisms through rational thinking, which make him able to explain to himself that he will receive safety from a different provider. Children whose parents are still alive do not have that option and they still wait for safety from their main providers, their parents. When they are not present, that creates a high amount of anxiety, which may turn, as seen in the study, into consumption of substances that lower the anxiety level. The experts mention in the study how nicotine works and why kids in these situations start using it:

“Nicotine, in particular, demonstrates psychoactive properties and may have benefits for mood regulation.”

What to do

It is highly important that children feel safe. Parents need to communicate with them constantly and look for signs of estrangement.  Also, they need to pay attention to signs of exaggerated anxiety, which can translate into frequent nightmares, bed wetting until a later age, irritation, problems focusing, isolation.