Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Childhood Family, Ethnicity, and Drug Use over the Life Course

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Childhood Family, Ethnicity, and Drug Use over the Life Course

Article excerpt

Using multiply imputed data from 5 waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N = 8,294), we investigated whether childhood family characteristics and childhood religious affiliation explain ethnic differences in marijuana and cocaine use in the last year. None of the childhood factors explained ethnic differences in drug use, though ethnicity and several childhood factors had age-specific effects. Over the life course from young adulthood to middle age, ethnic differences in drug use changed and the effect of childhood religious affiliation declined. Having a more intellectually rich family in childhood increased the risk of drug use at younger ages but reduced it at older ages. The study demonstrates the significance of childhood family experiences for understanding adult drug use.

Key Words: drug use, ethnicity, family, National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, panel studies, religion.

Recent data indicate that even though there is a declining trend in drug use, illegal drug use is at least a statistically normative process during late adolescence and young adulthood. The 2004 Monitoring the Future Survey found tiiat 51% of high school seniors had used marijuana (National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], 2004a). Among young adults (18-29 years), 60% reported in 2003 mat tiiey had ever used illegal drugs during their lifetime and one third reported using in the past year (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2004). By age 35, fewer than 20% reported annual use of illegal drugs. Although experimentation widi drugs may be relatively common and perhaps part of the process of individuation (Aquilino & Supple, 2001) in the transition to adulthood, persistence of drug behaviors into later ages is much less common.

The pattern of drug use by minority etiinic groups also varies in important ways from that of Whites (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2000). Whites are more likely than etìinic minorities to report having ever used drugs and to have used drugs recendy. Drug use among Whites is typically short term and occurs primarily during adolescence and young adulthood (SAMHSA, 2000), though drug use among emnic minorities often is more persistent and continues into older ages. In addition, compared to White drug users, ethnic minority drug users tend to use drugs more frequendy, are more likely to use hard drugs, and are more likely to report drug dependence (SAMHSA, 1999). Characteristics of the childhood family have been shown to influence early use of drugs (Kandel, 1996; Kaplow, Curran, Dodge, & The Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 2002) and to account for ethnic differences in use in adolescents (Amey & Albrecht, 1998).

Still, information is needed on the long-term influence of die childhood family over the life course when youths may transition from experimenters to persistent users of illegal drugs, particularly of marijuana and cocaine. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, with more than 94 million Americans (40%) who are 12 years or older having used the drug at least once (SAMHSA, 2004). Extended use of marijuana affects brain function, reducing a person's ability to form memories and to recall events (Pope & YurgelunTodd, 1996) that may affect learning skUls. Marijuana use also may be related to cancer of the lung, neck, and head (Tashkin, 1990). Although less common in the population (NIDA, 2003), cocaine use gained considerable popularity during the 1980s and 1990s (NTDA, 2004b). It is a powerful addictive stimulant with effects evident even after a single dose (Gold, 1997; Harvey & Kosofsky, 1998). Long-term cocaine use is associated with a number of mental and physical consequences, including paranoia and hallucinations, heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, and seizures.

In this article, we draw on primary socialization theory (Oetting & Donnermeyer, 1998) to address three questions. …

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