Russian Adolescents in the Era of Emergent Democracy: The Role of Family Environment in Substance Use and Depression

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Russian Adolescents in the Era of Emergent Democracy: The Role of Family Environment in Substance Use and Depression* Scott D. Scheer** and Donald G. Unger

A sample of 159 Russian adolescents was surveyed at a suburban Moscow secondary school in 1992. The purpose of this study was: (a) to explore the relation of Russian family environment with adolescent substance use and depression, and (b) to use cross-national research methods for replicating and confirming U.S. studies of family environment, substance use, and depression. Many of the findings were similar to studies with U.S. youth: (a) Russian youth who viewed their families as conflictual, non-supportive, and without close relationships with their parents reported feeling more depressed; and (b) substance users were not as close to their parents and families as non-users. There were also findings which may be unique to Russian youth that warrant further research. The findings have implications for family policy, family research, and the future development of cross-national studies.

Key Words: depression, family environment, Russian adolescents, substance use.

Since 1989 when Soviet Premier Gorbachev implemented glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), great political changes have occurred, including the dissolution of the USSR and the rise of democracy in Russia. Many "hidden" social problems have become visible, and coupled with rapid political, cultural, and social change, a difficult environment exists for Russia's population of 66 million citizens. Research in the former Soviet Union has documented dramatic increases in juvenile delinquency, youth gangs, suicide, and drug abuse. In the words of one Russian sociologist describing the desperate state of Russia's youth population:

In order to avert the great potential of a youth rebellion and revolution we need to create new conditions and motivations for young people to realize themselves and develop a sense of their own worth and direction. (Ilynsky, 1992, p. 40)

This investigation utilized cross-national research as an analytic strategy for exploring the relation of family environmental factors with Russian adolescent substance use and depression. There is little information on Russian adolescents in the postCommunist era. The increase of illicit substance use, delinquency, and suicide rates of Russian youth concerns both the international and Russian communities (Kramer, 1992; Ilynsky, 1992; Mochalina, 1992). Prior research in the United States suggests that the context of economic hardship and disarray in Russia is likely to place families at risk for family stress and jeopardize the well-being of Russian youth (Elder, Nguyen, & Caspi, 1985; Ge et al., 1992). Conger and Elder's (1994) research has clearly shown the affect of economic hardship on family relationships, substance use, and depression. Economic problems can bring about conflict and withdrawal among family members which may actually become a greater stressor than economic problems, unemployment, or income loss (Liker & Elder, 1983).

Problems in the family environment are a widely cited risk factor for adolescent substance use and depression in the United States (Barnes & Welte, 1986; Druckman, 1979; Emery, 1982; Gad & Johnson, 1980; Kaufman & Kaufman, 1979; Neiger & Hopkins, 1988; Rewenko, 1991; Thompson & Wilsnack, 1984). Substance use and depressed mood are often a reaction to familial stressors and family relationships (Graham, 1974; Kaufman & Kaufman, 1979; Weissman, 1987). Key family variables cited in the literature include family conflict, cohesion, and parentchild closeness as important factors affecting substance use and mental health (Battle, 1987; Brook, Brook, Gordon, Whiteman, & Cohen, 1990; Kaufman & Kaufman, 1979). Close family relationships act as a protective factor against stress and, ultimately, depression (Cumsille & Epstein, 1994; Gore, Aseltine, & Colten, 1993; Garrison, Jackson, Marsteller, McKeown, & Addy, 1990; Petersen, Sarigiani, & Kennedy, 1991; Schoenbach, 1979). …