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Poverty, Cigarettes, and Substance Abuse


Image courtesy Sharon Pruitt

There are several conceptions regarding poverty, childhood, and parenting that have been regarded as true for many years. One is that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to deal with substance abuse, poverty and poor parental interactions.

However, in a new study conducted by Duke University, researchers found that some of these ideas are actually misconceptions. They found that, while children who grew up in poverty are more likely to smoke cigarettes and have less self-control, they are no more likely to abuse alcohol or marijuana than their wealthier counterparts.

This study analyzed data collected from 1,258 children and caregivers from 1986 and 2009 to see the correlation between childhood poverty and substance abuse, cigarette smoking, and binge-drinking (Associated Press).

The researchers involved in the study measured economic status from annual income and surveys regarding economic hardships, such as having difficulties paying bills or providing medical care (Avery). Additionally, they included questions regarding children’s self-control and the quality and frequency of parental interactions (Avery).

The results of the study showed that young adults who had lived in poverty as children were much more likely to smoke cigarettes than children who grew up in wealthier households (Join Together Staff). They also found that children who grew up in poverty scored lower on self-control measures, potentially due to having limited opportunities to practice self-control and develop appropriate responses (Associated Press).

However, researchers also found that binge drinking was much more common among wealthier young adults and individuals who had exhibited high levels of self-control as children were more likely to heavily binge drink as young adults (Avery). No economic standing appeared to influence a child’s likeliness of smoking pot, or of developing substance abuse (Avery).

As a by-product of this study, researchers were also able to conclude that poverty didn’t negatively impact parental interactions. Regardless of economic standing, parents who were nurturing and accepting decreased their child’s likeliness of developing substance abuse of any kind (Associated Press). They found no correlation between economic hardship and bad parenting, dispelling the idea that poverty influences parental interactions, and replacing it with the idea that poverty negatively affects children’s development of self-control (Avery).

Binge-drinking, substance abuse, and cigarette smoking are all detrimental to one’s health, especially in the context of adolescence. While many scientists and researchers have connected substance abuse, poor parental interactions, and poor health choices with poverty in the past, this study shows that different groups of children are actually at risk for different actions – all of which are harmful. This information is particularly important, because the number of children who live in poverty has increased by 4 percent in the decade since 2000 (Avery). Yes, poverty has detrimental effects on childhood development and self-control, but the way that scientists and social work need to address this problem is towards the children instead of towards the parents.

Parental interactions play an important role in diverting substance abuse regardless of economic standing, but the lack of self-control in children who grew up in poverty is really what needs to be addressed so that these individuals can make better, healthier, less impulsive choices.


Works Cited

Associated Press. “Growing Up Poor May Raise Odds for Smoking: Study.” 30 July 2013. U.S. News. Web. 5 August 2013.

Avery, Sarah. “Childhood economic status affects substance use among young adults.” July 2013. Eurekalert. Web. 5 August 2013.

Join Together Staff. “Economic Status Early in Life May Influence Smoking, Drinking Patterns.” 31 July 2013. Web. 5 August 2013.

Written by

A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Research, Substance Abuse · Tags: parental interactions, poverty, study, substance abuse

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