Intergenerational Consequences of Adolescent Substance Use: Patterns of Homotypic and Heterotypic Continuity

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Does substance use run in families? In this article, we examine both homotypic continuity in substance use—the impact of a parent’s adolescent substance use on their child’s adolescent substance use—and heterotypic continuity—the impact of a parent’s adolescent substance use on their child’s involvement in other adolescent problem behaviors. The analysis is based on data from the Rochester Youth Development Study (Thornberry, Lizotte, Krohn, Smith, & Porter, 2003) and its intergenerational component, the Rochester Intergenerational Study (Thornberry, 2009). The initial study began with a representative sample of 7th and 8th grade students followed until Age 31, and the intergenerational study is currently following their oldest biological child from childhood through adolescence. The final sample size in the current analysis consists of 341 parent–child dyads. For fathers, their adolescent substance use predicts both homotypic and heterotypic outcomes of their child. For mothers, however, there is no evidence of intergenerational continuity for either homotypic or heterotypic outcomes. In contrast, when the parent’s adult substance use is examined, the opposite pattern emerges. The mother’s adult substance use is a more consistent predictor of child behavioral outcomes, but there is little evidence that the father’s adult behavior matters. Thus, it appears that the answer to the question of whether or not substance use runs in families is more nuanced than typically thought. Based on these results, continuity depends both on the sex of the parent and when in the parent’s life-course substance use occurs.

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