Home > Adolescents and parental substance misuse.

Keane, Martin (2015) Adolescents and parental substance misuse. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 53, Spring 2015, pp. 10-11.

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Keeley and colleagues1 recently published the results of their analysis of data collected in 26 schools in Cork and Kerry from a cohort of 2,716 adolescents aged 15–17 years. The data were collected using the ‘Lifestyle and Coping Questionnaire’ designed specifically for the Child and Adolescent Self-harm in Europe (CASE) study, which contains questions on a number of psychological domains including drug and alcohol use. Two questions were added to the standard questionnaire regarding parental substance misuse: ‘Has your mother had problems with alcohol/drugs?’ and ‘Has your father had problems with alcohol/drugs?’


Alcohol and drug use among adolescents

Eighty-three per cent of respondents (n=2,242) reported having consumed alcohol at least once, with no significant difference between boys and girls. Fifty per cent reported consuming 1–5 alcohol drinks in a typical week; 37% reported being really drunk on 1–3 occasions in the past month and 31% recalled being really drunk 1–3 times in the past year. Interestingly, and despite the high overall lifetime prevalence of 83%, over half the cohort (56.6%) reported that they had never been really drunk in the past month and just over a third (35%) had never been really drunk in the past year.


Less than a third of the cohort (31%) reported using an illicit drug at least once; less than a quarter (23.3%) in the last month and less than a third (32.9%) in the last year. Cannabis was the illicit drug most commonly used by both boys and girls; 93% of those who had used an illicit drug in the last month reported having used cannabis.


Substance misuse by parents and by their children

The authors reported an association between parental substance misuse and adolescent substance misuse. The magnitude of the risk was marginally higher if the parent misusing substances was the mother, and higher again if both parents were misusing substances. The association between parental substance misuse and an increased risk of adolescent substance misuse remains after adjusting for a number of other variables. However, it must be noted that from a relatively large cohort of adolescents, only 3.5% reported that their mother misused substances and 1.4% reported that both parents misused substances. Indeed, almost 89.6% of the cohort reported that their parents did not misuse substances.


The authors acknowledged the limitations of the study. The two questions on parental substance misuse did not distinguish between drugs and alcohol misuse and did not establish if the misuse was on-going or not. They went  on to say, ‘Despite these limitations, the paper adds information on the role parental misuse might have on young people’s risk of developing addiction in an Irish context…’ (p. 7).



This study showed that alcohol consumption on at least one occasion among this cohort of 15–17-year-olds was the norm. However, the frequency and level of alcohol consumption varied considerably. The study also showed  that among the same cohort, the use of illicit drugs was not the norm, with over two thirds reporting not using illicit drugs.  Among the third who did report using illicit drugs, the vast majority (93.8%) used cannabis.


It is important that young people are presented with data from research studies as part of prevention interventions. For example, the work of Keeley and colleagues described in this article could be used to challenge the perceptions among young adolescents that ‘all young people are drug users’. Keeley and colleagues showed that the vast majority of their large cohort did not use illicit drugs. Challenges to the perception that substance use is the norm among others can be delivered as part of the Social Norms programme.3



  1. Keeley HS, Mongwa T and Corcoran P (2015) The association between parental and adolescent substance misuse: findings from the Irish CASE study Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, early online https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/23244/ 
  2. Murphy KD, Byrne S, Sahm LJ, Lambert S and McCarthy S (2014) Use of addiction treatment services by Irish youth: does place of residence matter? Rural and Remote Health (14): 2735 https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/22461/
  3. Keane M (2011) The social norms approach to tackling substance use Drugnet Ireland (38): 16–17 https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/15646/

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