The economic status of childhood affects the substance u


image: Self-control in childhood affects substance use.
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Credit: Duke Medicine

DURHAM, NC – Children who grow up in poverty are more likely than wealthier children to smoke cigarettes, but they are less likely to drink binge and are not more likely to use cigarettes. marijuana, according to researchers at Duke Medicine.

Researchers also found that economic stresses early in life – including family worries about paying bills or the need to sell goods for money – independently erode a child’s self-control, regardless. from strong parenthood to adolescence. Lack of self-control often leads to substance use.

The conclusions, published on July 30, 2013, in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, demystify common assumptions about people who abuse substances and provide a basis for better approaches to prevent young people from falling into drug and alcohol addiction.

“Poverty in childhood not only appears to affect child development, but can have lasting effects on the types of health choices made during adolescence and early adulthood, particularly in terms of is about smoking, ”said lead author Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., MPH, MS, associate professor of community and family medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. “Economic constraints can shape an individual’s ability to control themselves by decreasing opportunities for self-regulation or by affecting important brain structures.”

Fuemmeler and his colleagues at Duke set out to examine the direct effect of childhood economic stresses on smoking, binge drinking, and marijuana use in young adults. They also sought to determine how financial difficulties affect self-control and how positive parenting might reduce the tendency to use drugs and alcohol.

The group analyzed data from 1,285 children and guardians included in a representative sample of American families studied from 1986 to 2009. Economic status was measured by annual family income, plus a survey with questions about economic issues such as difficulty paying bills or delaying medical care. Additional information was gathered to assess childhood self-control and parenting interactions.

Among study participants who transitioned to adulthood, young people who lived in poverty as children were much more likely to become regular cigarette smokers than children who grew up in wealthier households. Impoverished children also scored poorly on self-control measures.

“Poor self-control can be the product of limited learning resources and opportunities to develop appropriate behaviors,” said Fuemmeler.

Binge drinking, however, was much more common among wealthier youth. And surprisingly, those who had good self-control as children were more likely to engage in episodic heavy drinking as adults.

Neither wealth nor poverty appeared to influence marijuana use, although positive parenting reduced the use of the drug. Parents who nurtured and accepted, in fact, decreased the likelihood of young people consuming either of these substances.

The researchers also found no correlation between economic hardship and poor parenting – a contradiction with other studies.

“We suspected to find a relationship between parenthood and economic problems – the idea that economic strains may cause parents to have less ability to care for their children, but this relationship did not exist,” said Fuemmeler. “This means that it is not necessarily poverty that affects parenting strategy, but poverty that affects children’s self-control.”

Fuemmeler said the findings are important given the increase in the number of American children living in poverty. The US Census Bureau reported that 22% of children lived in poverty in 2010, up from 18% in 2000.

“Continued work is needed to better understand how economic stress can influence the development of self-control, as well as to identify other potential mediators between economic stress and substance use outcomes,” said Fuemmeler.


In addition to Fuemmeler, study authors include Chien-Ti Lee, Joseph McClernon, Scott H. Kollins, and Kevin Prybol.

The National Institutes of Health (RO1 DA030487), the National Cancer Institute (K07CA124905), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (K24DA023464) funded the study.

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