1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse
Drug Use Among Youths, by Parental and Peer Attitudes Toward Drugs (Tables 13.7 and 13.8)
To assess parental attitudes, NHSDA respondents aged 12 to 17 were asked how they thought their parents would feel if they (i.e., the respondents) were to engage in various drug use behaviors. Table 13.7 shows the prevalence of marijuana, other illicit drug, alcohol, and tobacco use for respondents who felt their parents would be either (a) very upset or (b) somewhat or not upset about each hypothetical drug use behavior. The findings demonstrate a very consistent pattern in which the use of marijuana, other illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes was higher among youths who perceived that their parents would show more tolerant attitudes (i.e., be only "somewhat" upset or not upset) toward their hypothetical substance use. For example, of the 81% of youths who reported that their parents would be very upset if they were to try using marijuana once or twice, 9% reported using marijuana in the past year. This contrasts with a prevalence rate of 42% among youths whothought their parents would be only somewhat upset or not upset about their child trying marijuana. This pattern is characteristic for most of the comparisons shown in the table.
All differences in drug use prevalence between the two groups of youths, as classified by the perceived attitudes of their parents, were statistically significant with four exceptions. Youths who reported that their parents would not be very upset about their child's monthly use of cocaine or any use of heroin did not differ significantly in their past year use of both marijuana and alcohol from those youths who said that their parents would be very upset. This anomalous pattern may be partly attributable to the low prevalence of favorable attitudes toward these two rather extreme behaviors-only 5% of youths reported that their parents would not be "very upset" if they tried using heroin and 4% reported that their parents would not be "very upset" if they used cocaine once a month. In these cases, the small subgroups being compared make it more difficult to detect significant group differences. The extreme nature of these two attitudinal items might also introduce a higher degree of measurement (or misclassification) error in these items relative to other items that reflect less extreme types of drug behavior. Even so, the subgroups defined by parental attitudes toward their child's use of heroin and cocaine were found to differ significantly with respect to the past year use of cigarettes and of any illicit drugs other than marijuana.
Findings regarding perception of friends' attitudes toward drug use are displayed in Table 13.8. These measures reflect the perceived reactions of friends to the respondent's hypothetical use of drugs and were assessed in an analogous manner to those regarding parental attitudes. The subgroup differences in the prevalence of past year use of drugs observed in this table are even more pronounced than those based on parental attitudes. For example, the prevalence of past year marijuana use among those who perceived a more favorable attitude toward trying marijuana was 27%, which is over 10 times the prevalence rate for those whose friends held a less favorable attitude toward marijuana use. Furthermore, every subgroup comparison shown in the table was statistically significant. As was the case with parental attitudes, however, peer attitudes toward heroin use and monthly cocaine use were not as strongly associated with self-reported drug use behaviors as were the other attitudinal measures.
In reviewing the findings presented in Tables 13.7 and 13.8, several considerations must be borne in mind. First, the strong correlations between the attitudinal measures examined here and self-reported drug use behaviors do not establish causality and therefore do not imply that changes in attitudes will necessarily result in corresponding changes in behavior. It is certainly possible that some respondents tend to develop and/or report attitudes that are consistent with their behavior. Second, asking about "how upset" parents and peers would be about the respondent's drug use probably does not capture all the important aspects of their attitudes toward drugs. Third, the associations observed between perceived parental and peer attitudes and drug use by youths generate additional questions regarding how such attitudes are formed and might be changed. The implications of these findings would be strengthened if the causal connections could be firmly established and if strategies for fostering and changing parent and peer attitudes, or youths' perceptions of these attitudes, could be identified.
This page was last updated on December 30, 2008.