Researchers have identified barriers to self-sufficiency of recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) (Ballou, 1977; Chrissinger, 1980; Sanger, 1979; Zuravin & Greif, 1989) and welfare programs (Ballou, 1977; Glass, 1982; Miller, 1989). However, no study has investigated the scope of substance abuse among the female AFDC population to determine an association between substance abuse and the achievement and maintenance of independence from public assistance. The study described in this article investigated the prevalence of alcoholism and drug abuse among female AFDC recipients.
Three studies examined alcohol and drug use in populations that included AFDC recipients. Zuravin and Greif (1989) found significantly higher binge drinking (of two days or more) and hard drug use among AFDC recipients with contact with child protective services (CPS) compared to mothers without CPS contact. Using toxicologic screening, Chasnoff, Landress, and Barrett (1990) found that 16.3 percent of pregnant women who used public clinics compared to 13.1 percent of pregnant women who used private clinics tested positively for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or opiate use or some combination. A comparison of alcohol and drug dependence of male and female recipients of General Public Assistance (GPA) and AFDC found that 16 percent of male recipients and 5 percent of female recipients were alcohol dependent and that 32 percent of males and 13 percent of females were drug dependent (Schmidt, 1992).
The study employed a cross-sectional survey design with a nonprobability convenience sample to measure the prevalence of alcoholism and drug abuse in female AFDC recipients enrolled in Project Independence, a welfare-to-work program in Montgomery County, Maryland. A 50-item Health Habit Questionnaire was administered to all literate English-speaking AFDC recipients who enrolled in Project Independence from January 29, 1990, through May 4, 1990. Two highly reliable and valid standardized instruments, the 13-item Short Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (SMAST) (Selzer, Vinokur, & van Rooijen, 1975) and the 20-item Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST) (Skinner, 1982), were embedded in questions on smoking, weight, mental health status, and physician and hospital use.
Of the 206 female subjects, 68 percent were African American; 78 percent were single. The mean age of the sample was 30.1 years (SD = 7.26). The mean grade achievement of subjects was 11.4 (SD = 1.44); 63.4 percent of the sample were high school graduates. The mean number of children per subject was 1.9 (SD = 1.07); 42.2 percent of the sample had one child, and 36.4 percent had two children. The sample included 58.7 percent long-term recipients (36 of the last 60 months on AFDC), and 22.8 percent were potential long-term recipients (teenage parents without a high school diploma). Mandatory Project Independence participants formed 66.5 percent of the sample.
Prevalence of substance abuse in the sample was estimated based on two operationalizations of SMAST and DAST scores. SMAST scores indicated that 11.4 percent were identified as alcoholics and 14.7 percent as possible alcoholics (possible alcoholics had experienced an alcohol-related social problem such as work sanction, an arrest for drunk driving, relationship problems, neglect of family responsibilities, and hospitalization or counseling because of drinking). DAST scores indicated that 9.4 percent of the sample were identified as drug abusers and 16.7 percent as drug users (drug users had used illicit drugs or had experienced a drug-related social problem such as work sanction, an arrest for illegal activities, a physical fight, relationship or family problems, medical illness, or withdrawal symptoms).
Table 1. SMAST and DAST Scores
Diagnosis Frequency %
SMAST (N = 184)
Not alcoholic 136 73. …