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Revisiting the Association Between Attachment to Parents and Adolescent Substance Use: Conditional Effects of Parental Disapproval

Abstract

Social bond theory provides a clear theoretical link between attachment to parents and reduced involvement with substance use regardless of the substance use-related attitudes and behaviors of parents. In contrast, social learning theories contend that attachment to parents may increase substance use if youth perceive that their parents are less disapproving, or even approving, of it. To date, these contrasting propositions have received limited empirical attention, and the present study aims to resolve this theoretical tension. Using data on a statewide sample of middle and high school students from Florida (N = 48315), we assess the main and interactive effects of attachment to parents and parental disapproval of substance use on youths’ own use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. The results provide evidence that the negative to null effect of attachment to parents on substance use changes to positive as youth perceive parents to be less disapproving of substance use. The findings of this study challenge the assumption that greater attachment to parents is universally protective against substance use and provide support for social learning perspectives over social bond theory.

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Notes

  1. We empirically address this head on in a later section by presenting cross-tabs using data from the current study, which illustrate that a large sample like that used herein is needed to ensure adequate cell sizes reflecting instances where youth are strongly attached to parents who are indifferent to substance use.

  2. Considering these exclusions, there were 932 middle schools and 523 high schools in the sampling frame. The exclusion of adult education, correctional, and special education schools was a decision made by the state agencies that oversee the FYSAS administration and not the authors of this study.

  3. According to the 2018 FYSAS State Report, a passive consent procedure is used in most of the schools. Since there is no statewide policy in Florida regarding the requirement of active versus passive consent, it is assumed that those districts or individual schools that do not require passive consent instead require active consent.

  4. These participation rates are similar to those reported by Wave I of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (79%) and the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (71.5%), both of which sampled youth from within schools.

  5. The removal of cases was done by someone with whom the state of Florida contracts to process the FYSAS data.

  6. While the FYSAS operational definition of binge drinking is five or more drinks in a row for all participants (both males and females), it should be noted that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as well as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, operationalize binge drinking for females as four drinks (see https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking). Thus, the present study might produce a slight undercount of binge drinking among females.

  7. The use of this ordinal coding scheme appears in prior research (e.g., Hoeben & Weerman, 2016; Lehmann & Meldrum, 2021), and as will become evident, the measures based on this coding scheme are associated with variables in ways that would be expected of valid measures of the respective constructs.

  8. A factor analysis also revealed a single factor emerged with an eigenvalue of 2.10 and a minimum loading of 0.62.

  9. Unfortunately, the FYSAS survey instrument does not ask specifically about parental disapproval of the binge drinking of alcohol. As such, the item about disapproval of drinking in general is used in the models predicting both general alcohol consumption as well as binge drinking. Readers should keep this in mind when interpreting the results for the interactive effects in the model predicting binge drinking.

  10. An examination of the variance inflation factor (VIF) values revealed no issues of multicollinearity among the covariates used in these analyses (mean VIF = 1.58; highest VIF = 2.86).

  11. At the recommendation of an anonymous reviewer, we further assessed the patterns of missingness by comparing the mean observed values on all study variables between cases with missing and non-missing data for each of the dependent variables and independent variables of interest. In most instances, there were statistically significant mean differences on the study variables, thus suggesting that the data are not missing at random (NMAR) and thus the missingness is “nonignorable” (Allison, 2002, p. 184).

  12. Supplementary analyses using listwise deletion (N = 38165), which are available upon request, revealed the exact same substantive pattern of findings as that shown in the tables using multiple imputation.

  13. Multilevel logistic regression models also were estimated to determine whether the findings are sensitive to the method used to account for the clustering of observations within level-2 units. The findings from these supplementary analyses, which are available upon request, reveal the exact same pattern of findings—and nearly identical regression coefficients and standard errors—to the results presented in the tables.

  14. The McFadden R2 values for each model vary slightly across the 30 imputations, but the minimum pseudo R2 values are as follows: 0.41 for Model 1, 0.35 for Model 2, 0.32 for Model 3, and 0.49 for Model 4.

  15. The four slopes presented in Fig. 5 reflect the observed values on the parental disapproval index of 0, 1, 2, and 3. It should be noted that to be coded as “0” on this frequency index, the respondent must have indicated “Not wrong at all” to all three parental disapproval survey items. Similarly, in order to achieve a mean score of “3” of this measure, the youth must have responded “Very wrong” to all three questions.

  16. Still, we were able to control for adolescent reports of family substance use. Further, if adolescent perceptions of parental attitudes are based on observations of parental substance use, then perceptions of parental attitudes about substance use would seem to be the more temporally appropriate construct to consider in how it interacts with attachment to parents.

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Appendices

Appendix A

Table 6 Cross-tabulation of Substance Use and Parental Disapproval of Substance Use

Appendix B

Table 7 Negative Binomial Regression Models of Substance Use Variety Index: Main and Interactive Effects of Attachment to Parents and Multi-Item Measure of Parental Disapproval of Substance Use

Appendix C 

Fig. 5
figure 5

Predicted Count on Substance Use Variety Index by Attachment to Parents and Parental Disapproval of Substance Use

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Meldrum, R.C., Lehmann, P.S., Kakar, S. et al. Revisiting the Association Between Attachment to Parents and Adolescent Substance Use: Conditional Effects of Parental Disapproval. Am J Crim Just (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-022-09673-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-022-09673-w

Keywords

  • Attachment to parents
  • Social bonds
  • Differential association
  • Social learning
  • Substance use
  • Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey