Children Of Deployed Parents Have Higher Risks Of Using Drugs And Alcohol

Megan Charles

A University of Iowa study suggests children with at least one parent deployed in active military duty may have a higher statistical risk of experimenting with drugs and alcohol. The findings were recently published online in the journal Addiction.

Researchers utilized data from a statewide survey of sixth, eighth, and 11th-grade students called the Iowa Youth Survey (IYS). The census tool was developed in 1999 by the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation and is administered by the state every two years in order to assess the perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of Iowa youths.

For the purposes of this study, Stephan Arndt, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and biostatistics at the University of Iowa and senior author, evaluated the 2010 IYS results. The 2012 IYS results are available online.

Researchers wanted to identify the associated impact of parental military deployment, disruption in living arrangements, and the risk of substance abuse behaviors in children.

Nearly two2 million US children had at least one parent in active duty in 2010. Many of these kids will often stay with relatives or family friends and live a nomadic inconsistent lifestyle, requiring them to continually readjust to new environments and social relationships.

The online questionnaire made inquiries regarding attitudes and experiences with alcohol, drugs, and violence as well as students' perceptions of their peers, family, school, and their community. Students were also asked if they had a parent in active duty and, if so, their deployment status.

Researchers reviewed 59,395 responses. One parent deployed made up 775 or 1.3 percent; recently returned from duty made up 983 or nearly 1.7 percent; and 57,637 or 97 percent did not have a parent in the military.

Sixth graders of non-military households had a two percent binge drinking rate versus seven percent in the military group. Answers reflected similarly high occurrences of prescription drug abuse, marijuana, and the use of other illegal substances across all of the reviewed age groups of children with an active military parent.

The data revealed that military children who were not living with a relative also had a 42 percent higher risk of binge drinking than a child from a non-military family. Only eight percent engaged in abusing alcohol when living with a parent while the other was deployed.

A separate but related study, "Effects of Soldiers' Deployment on Children's Academic Performance and Behavioral Health," found that among a sample of Army children, those whose parents were deployed for a prolonged, cumulative period of at least 19 months struggled academically.

Arndt stated the Iowa study made an argument for encouraging deploying parents to place the temporary guardianship of their children with a family member in lieu of a friend as well as trying to minimize the disruption in daily living arrangements.

The researchers did acknowledge the potential for slightly skewed results based on the fact that Iowa, as well as states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, have especially large concentrations of military personnel and National Guard reservists. Many also live in civilian communities over military bases, which can limit access to support services.

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