A caring mother is the single most important factor in preventing children from taking drugs, even in areas where drugs are widely available, according to an international study.
A team of researchers, led by Dr Paul McArdle from Newcastle University, in the UK, analysed questionnaires completed by nearly 4,000 teenagers aged 14 and 15 from cities in England, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands.
The teenagers were asked whether they took drugs, such as LSD or cannabis, or drank alcohol regularly. They were also asked whether they lived with one or both parents, and other questions to assess the quality of their family relationships and how well they were supervised.
The report, published in the journal Addiction, found that teenagers were much less likely to have drug or alcohol habits if they lived with both parents and enjoyed “quality family relationships”.
However, the research team found evidence to suggest that such positive effects were being eroded in areas where drug availability was particularly high, mainly due to peer pressure.
But they also found that the one exception to this trend was among teenagers who had strong attachments to their mothers. These children were unlikely to take drugs, even when they were freely available.
Commenting on his findings, Dr McArdle said, “This study shows that the quality of family life, or rather the lack of it for many young people, is at the core of the drugs problem in Western society.
“Yet this message is largely absent from drug prevention campaigns. We spell out the dangers of drug abuse to children on TV and launch drug prevention initiatives in schools – but it seems that no one is really tackling the issue of parental responsibility.”
The study was funded by the European Commission.
© Health Media Ltd 2002