Previous research has documented that child maltreatment and family/peer substance use are highly related to adolescent substance use. However, little is known about the role of maltreatment types (i.e., physical, sexual, and emotional abuse), as well as the effect of family members’ and peer groups’ substance use within the context of child maltreatment. In addition, few studies have examined the potential racial differences. Therefore, this study examined the influences of child maltreatment types, family/peer substance use on adolescent substance use, as well as the racial differences in these relationships.
This study used data from the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) which tracked the antecedents and consequences of child maltreatment in the US. The sample includes 562 adolescents (51.2% female; 26.7% low-income; 33.5% White, and 66.5% Black). Child Protective Services reports (CPS) and youth self-reports were used to measure each type of child maltreatment (age: 0-12). Family members’ and peers’ substance use at age 12 were assessed using a modified version of the Youth Risk Behavior and Monitoring the Future Survey. Adolescent substance use was assessed using self-reported alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs (e.g., marijuana, cocaine, LSD). Given the low frequencies of each substance use at age 12, the data were summed and dichotomized. Adolescents’ gender, race, income, caregivers’ education, internalizing and externalizing symptoms were used as covariates. To eliminate potential clustering effects (i.e., five study sites), the Generalized Estimating Equations approach was employed.
Adolescents who experienced sexual abuse, but not other types of maltreatment, had higher odds of substance use (OR = 2.13, p = .036). Adolescents whose family members use substances had 1.47 times higher odds of adolescent substance use and peer substance use was associated with 1.44 times higher odds of adolescent substance use. The interaction between race and sexual abuse was significant (OR = .20, p = .048), with sexual abuse being a stronger predictor of substance use in Black youth than White youth. The interaction between race and peer substance use was also significant (OR = 3.57, p < .001); greater peer substance use was a stronger predictor of substance use in White youth than in Black youth.
Conclusion and implications:
This study contributes to expansion of our knowledge on the extent to which types of child maltreatment are associated with adolescent substance use, as well as possible racial differences in pathways to early substance use. Overall, adolescents who have been sexually abused and those whose parents and peers use substances are at heightened risk for substance use. The interaction between sexual abuse and race suggests that sexually abused Black youth are at increased risk for substance use because sexual abuse may exacerbate other adversities. Additionally, affiliation with substance using peers is a more critical for deleterious substance use in White than Black youth. These findings suggest a need for diverse intervention strategies, such as early assessment of child maltreatment experiences and parents’ substance use, monitoring for peer groups, and taking account of racial differences.