Professor Simon Moore and Emily Lowthian have written an article for The Conversation based on their recent paper “The Enduring Effects of Parental Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Use on Child Well-being: A Multilevel Meta-Analysis”. Below is a precis of the full article.
We all know that the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs harms our own health. But many people are not aware that their use of these substances can sometimes also affect the health and well-being of others – including their own children.
For our newly published study, we decided to look into the effects of substance use on child well-being. This included physical, psychological (mental health), cognitive (measured through things like school achievement), social (including whether they had positive relationships or antisocial behaviour) and economic (for example, whether the family requires financial support) well-being.
We analysed how parents’ combined use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco impacts on children because very often those who use drugs also smoke and drink. We were also interested in how children are affected and whether any effects endure over time.
We used multiple sources to identify studies that have investigated the relationship between parental drug, alcohol or tobacco use and its effect on children in these five areas of well-being. We ultimately used 56 studies, noted any relationship between parental substance use and child well-being that had been found in them, and then analysed the data.
We found that, overall, parental substance use was associated with a reduction in child well-being in all five areas. What was particularly stark was that this effect endured over time, meaning that the relationship was still present even if there was a gap between when the parent and child’s information was collected.
We also saw that parents’ non-dependent substance use also affected child well-being and that parental alcohol use had similar risks for child well-being as tobacco use.
Our study of the research also showed that parental drug use had the greatest effect on child well-being, compared to alcohol and/or tobacco. Given that large numbers of children may be affected, the challenges that families face over substance use must be addressed for the future well-being of children. However, our study shows that it is not as simple as addressing a dependent substance use problem in isolation.
Further work that supports the challenges of family life and addresses family interactions, strain in the family, and considers structural challenges, such as poverty, is a good place to start to address this problem.