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Children with neglectful parents likely to use illicit substances

Stephen Padilla
31 Aug 2017

There are more neglectful than permissive primary caregivers of children and adolescents with substance use disorders who have received drug abuse treatment compared to the general population, according to a Thai study.

“Children and adolescents who have a neglectful parent can be considered a high-risk group for substance abuse,” researchers said. “Primary prevention of substance abuse in children and adolescents, especially in Thailand, should be focused in this particular group.”

A total of 257 participants aged less than 20 years were recruited in this cross-sectional study (mean age 16.8 years; 87.9 percent male). The average age of initial drug use was 14.6 years, and the most commonly used substances were as follows: amphetamine (n=101; 39.3 percent), marijuana (n=70; 27.2 percent) and other drugs (n=86; 33.5 percent). [ASEAN Journal of Psychiatry 2017;18:XX-XX]

Participants had received the following parenting styles from their primary caregivers: authoritative (n=115; 52.5 percent), neglectful (n=57; 26.0 percent), permissive (n=18; 8.2 percent) and authoritarian (n=29; 13.2 percent).

In comparison to the general population, there was a significantly large number of participants with neglectful parents (26.0 vs 12.4 percent) and a significantly lower number of participants with permissive parents (8.2 vs 22.8 percent; p<0.001). Furthermore, no significant association was observed between parenting styles and parental education level or parent income.

“This significant increase of neglectful parents showed that having neglectful parents was a risk factor for substance use in Thai adolescents,” researchers said. “This result was consistent with the consensus from previous studies.” [Adolescence 2009;44:101; Child Dev 1991;62:1049-1065; J Gerontol B-Psychol 2009;64:137-146; Presse Med 2007;36:1341-1349; Drug Alcohol Rev 2008;27:640-649; J Behav Med 1996;19:289-305]

Researchers explained that children and adolescents with neglectful parents often feel empty or abandoned, causing them to have greater dependency needs. This may push them to seek ways to sooth themselves, and using illicit substances is “one of the many ways of self-soothing to ease the lack of attention from parents and fulfil their dependency needs.”

“In contrast, those who had received other parenting styles possibly have received a sufficient amount of warmth and attention from parents, so they have fewer dependency needs,” they added.

These findings contradicted the results of earlier studies, in which greater substance use in adolescents correlated with permissive parenting style. [J Drug Educ 1997;27:199-211; Child Dev 1991;62:1049-1065; Presse Med 2007;36:1341-1349; Drug Alcohol Rev 2008;27:640-649]

“One important contributing factor to this inconsistency may be cultural,” researchers explained.

In this cross-sectional study, children and adolescents with substance use disorders were recruited from the Princess Mother National Institute on Drug Abuse Treatment in Pathumthani, Thailand. All participants were asked to complete questionnaires.

Researchers used descriptive statistical analyses to examine parenting styles and Chi square to examine associations between parenting styles and parental education level and parent income.

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