Methods: Participants included adolescents placed in a detention center for non-criminal behaviors (N=150) and their parents (N=89). Youth averaged 15 years old and were primarily African American (43%) or Caucasian (38%). Similar self-report questionnaires were asked of youth and their parents. Measures focused on 1) youth problem behaviors (delinquency, academic success); 2) peer influences (peer substance use and high-risk behaviors); and 3) family factors (family functioning, abuse experiences, and parental substance use). Separate logistic and multiple regression analyses examined factors associated with adolescents alcohol use (ever and frequency in the past 30 days) from the perspective of youth and parents.
Results: Most youth reported that they drank alcohol (71%), drinking an average of 10 days in the previous month. Logistic regression analyses of youth self-reports revealed that: those who had friends who used substance were 29% more likely to use alcohol, running away from home increased the odds of drinking alcohol by four times, smoking cigarettes increased the odds by six times and smoking marijuana increased the odds by eleven times, model x2(8)=89.58, p<.001. Logistic regression of parents' reports of risk factors, demonstrated that parents with children who had run away from home were nearly 5 times more likely to have a child who drank alcohol. Analyses also revealed that parents who were Caucasian were 15 times more likely to have a child who drank, x2(7)=37.52, p<.001. Among parents who reported their child's level of alcohol use (number of days in past 30 days), multiple regression analyses indicated fathers who reported a lack of social support and had children who used a variety of drugs predicted greater alcohol use, F(6,27)=4.39, p<.001, R2=.38.
Conclusions: Youths' runaway behaviors, whether reported by parents or youth, predicted drinking alcohol. This suggests that youth admitted to juvenile detention with runaway experiences are likely to have severed family bonds, resulting in greater likelihood of drinking behaviors. Aside from this finding, the remainder of the results indicates that youth and parents offer unique insights into risk factors for adolescent alcohol use. Youths' reports focused on individual and peer influences, while parents offered insights into potential family dynamics affecting the youth's substance use. Drawing on parents' perceptions as well as youths' provides more comprehensive understanding of adolescents' high-risk behaviors and family environmental factors. When assessing youths' needs in juvenile detention centers, parents' perceptions should be included as they offer unique perspectives regarding the psychosocial functioning and well-being of their adolescent children.