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Teenage Alcohol and Drug Use

Armen Hareyan's picture

Teen Drinking

  • During some assessments of child psychopathologies, parental observations can be helpful.

  • New research looks at how helpful parents may be in terms of assessing their children's alcohol and/or drug use and abuse.

  • Findings indicate that parents do not provide valuable information about their children's use of alcohol and drugs because they are often unaware of it.

Previous assessments of child psychopathology have shown that parents can be helpful in reporting symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). A new study examines just how helpful parents are in assessing their children's alcohol and/or drug use and abuse. The answer? Not much.

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Results are published in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"'Externalizing' disorders such as ADHD and ODD have behaviors associated with them that are obvious and affect others," explained Laura Jean Bierut, associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine. "For example, a child who cannot sit still or focus on his or her work at school and is disruptive in the classroom, or a child who argues with his or her parents or refuses to do the things that they ask. However, the symptoms associated with 'internalizing' disorders such as depression can be much more subtle and not as easily recognized. Things like feelings of worthlessness or loss of interest in favorite activities can be very troubling to a child, but they don't necessarily impact others and might go unnoticed unless the child chooses to talk about them." Bierut is also the corresponding author for the study.

In terms of psychiatric disorders in general, added Sherri Fisher, project coordinator of the St. Louis site of the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) as well as co-author, this "disconnect" points out the importance of talking to both parents and children about the child's behavior and symptoms. "In terms of a child's substance use or substance-related problems, however, parents may be unaware of what's going on with their children, or simply repeat information that has already been reported by their child," she said.

To further test this hypothesis, researchers used data gathered as part of COGA, a multi-center family study that was initiated in 1989. For this analysis, 591 adolescent-parent pairs who participated in COGA between the years of 1991 and 1998 were interviewed: 12- to 17-year-olds were administered the child version of the Semi-Structured Assessment for the Genetics of Alcoholism (C-SSAGA), and one corresponding parent