Families, Delinquency, and Crime

While it is a fairly well-known fact that delinquency among children has a direct tie to how their family functions as a whole, this particular study focused on the particular risk factors of children of narcotic addicts. Additionally, it calculated the risk factors of children who have poor family relations to later become substance abusers themselves. Teachers have long-discussed the fact that children who come from families where the parents have poor marital relations or, more specifically, when the parents have little involvement in their children’s lives because of their own problems, are quite likely to have much larger behavior problems than their counterparts. The majority of past studies, however, did not include substance abuse as a risk factor for these children or as a by-product of their upbringing.

            This paper used the results of past studies as well as their own results to draw their conclusions. One of the studies was of preschool children, comparing the parenting behavior of the mothers who were in a methadone maintenance program, to those of mothers who suffered no chemical addictions. Not surprisingly, the addicted mothers were much less cognizant and responsive to their pre-schooler’s needs and requirements than the non-addicted mothers. Additionally, this study showed that the children of the addicted mothers had an increased risk of future substance abuse themselves. The theory is that the addicted mother’s exhibited certain personality traits, attitudes and behaviors which would ultimately put their children at risk for both bad behavior and drug usage.

The Social Research Unit conducted their “vulnerability” study with the goal of gaining a better understanding of those factors that led to narcotic addiction. 601 adult males were categorized into these three groups: 255 narcotic addicts, 147 peer controls drawn from “addict-generated lists of age 11 associates of the addicts,” and 199 community controls who were not associates of the addicts. (Nurco 2).  Each volunteer agreed to a two and a half hour interview, signed an informed consent document and was paid for his time. The questions addressed family structure, substance use, home atmosphere and early “deviance,” or disruptive behaviors. The summary of this particular study showed that the narcotic addicts reported substantially higher incidents of early deviant family behavior, earlier use of alcohol and marijuana, greater levels of family disruption before the child reached the age of 12, more “negative perceptions” of the home atmosphere from the 12-14 year olds and a higher level of deviant behavior in the friends they chose. This study clearly showed a link between these early risk factors and subsequent vulnerability to some form of addiction.

The current study undertook to prove that children of addicts were adversely affected and influenced by their parent’s behaviors. The children that were targeted were those whose parents were narcotic addicts currently enrolled in a methadone maintenance treatment program. The children were questioned about the past and current aspects of their lives, including early deviance, family structure, home atmosphere, alcohol and drug use, association with deviant peers and psychological symptoms.

The objectives were to find out how the teenage children of addicts were functioning and to pinpoint certain prevention or treatment interventions for these children that could possibly make a difference in their adult lives. There were 285 children selected for the study—51% male and 49% female. Eighty-four percent were African American, 16% were white, and the average age was 14.4, with the age spectrum ranging from 12 to 17. Ninety-seven percent of these children were currently attending school. As far as the parents, 80 % were female and 20% were male, with an average age of 37, and an average of four years of substance abuse treatment.

The children were interviewed, however an additional factor was thrown in which was the factor of truthfulness or validity in reporting. The interviewer rated the children’s responses in terms of “not very accurate, containing considerable falsification, or considerably less truthful,” while adding that some of the children had “quite a bit” of difficulty in recalling specific events or facts about their home life. (Nurco 3). The interviewers, in their quest to get truthful and reliable information, had to reassure their subjects that they were not associated with any criminal justice agency and guarantee confidentiality of the responses.

In this study, the children were given forty-three cards, each of which listed a deviant act. The children were to put these cards in piles of “yes” or “no.” The “yes” cards were then gone over and the children were asked their age at the time they engaged in a particular deviant behavior. The cards were also assigned a “severity” number, with number one equaling minor deviance, two equaling moderate deviance, three equaling moderate deviance including chargeable offenses, and four equaling serious offenses. A minor deviance could be trespassing or disobeying a direct order while a moderate deviance could be getting into a physical fight. The moderately serious behaviors included dealing drugs, hitting a teacher or carrying a deadly weapon, and the serious offenses were things such as burglary, murder, armed robbery or either watching or joining in a gang rape.

The study then questioned each child about their own drug use, and if they answered yes to any particular question, they were further questioned about the age of first use, frequency of use and number of times intoxicated.  Family structure was explored, such as intact families, divorced parents, single parents, step-parents, or adoptive and foster parents. The home atmosphere of the child was rated in terms such as “relaxed versus tense, cheerful versus sad, stable versus unstable,” etc. (Nurco 4).  The children were asked about peer deviance, or whether any of the child’s friends had committed any of the twenty deviant acts presented.

As a final component of this study, the psychological status of each child in the year prior to the interview was obtained.  The results of this study noted that 64% of the children of narcotic addicts reported committing at least one deviant act by the age of 11, while the average age at the time of this first act was 8.3 years. Getting into a physical fight was the deviant act most often reported by these children (45%). Twenty-one percent of the children reported the use of illicit drugs by the age of 13.35, and only 39% of the children reported living in an intact family structure with both birth mother and father present.  Only 18 % of the children rated their home lives as positive, and the psychological test revealed that the symptom most frequently reported by both male and female subjects was hostility.

The results of the study were an eye-opener to those conducting the study in that they found many parallels between the results of the children of narcotic addicts and the study of the narcotic addicts themselves.  When comparing the results of drug and alcohol use of the study group with studies of children in general, it was found that the study subjects had only slightly higher percentages of drug and alcohol usage than their counterparts. The findings regarding the hostility level of these children did conclusively show that the children of addicts tend to be more prone to developing anti-social attitudes early on in life. One significant limitation of the study was that 84% of the group were African American, were from an inner-city environment, had addict parents who had been in treatment an average of four years and volunteered for the study out of a pool of 700 recruits. No control group was available, and those who conducted the study admitted that they could not definitively say that white, suburban, or rural adolescents raised by addict parents would present the same profile.

At the conclusion of this study it was felt that children of addicts were in fact at a higher risk of developing substance abuse problems and for other forms of deviant behavior.  While it seems a reasonable assumption that children of addicts are at a much higher risk of deviant behavior and addiction themselves, I don’t believe this study definitively proved that. I think that the first issue is that the results were based on only one study, with a relatively few children involved—285, with the majority of those being African American. Because of these facts, I don’t believe the results are all that significant in themselves. I think we also have to consider hereditary as a factor in future drug use of children. Can we logically assume that the mother or father of these children had something in their genetic makeup that led to subsequent drug abuse with the following thought that perhaps the children possessed the same genetic link? Alternatively, looking from the “nurture” point of view, were these parents simply weak in character with their drug usage and behavior leading directly to their own children’s drug use and/or deviant behavior? Additionally, it is a well-documented fact that children who suffer even the most horrible abuse at the hands of their parents are still reluctant to tell anyone about the abuse because of a strong sense of loyalty to their parents. This gives rise to the question of how truthful the children in the study were, or to what extent they were protecting their parents out of love and loyalty. While addicted parents certainly are less attentive to their child’s needs, less responsive to their children and less aware of their children’s lives as a whole, can this study absolutely prove that some non-addicted parents don’t share these exact same traits, perhaps because of mental illness, depression, or other factors? Because of the extreme prevalence of drug use in our modern society, I think it becomes difficult, if not impossible to sort out the problems caused by the parents’ drug use as opposed to the problems caused from a myriad of other issues, financial, emotional, mental. Do financial worries, emotional problems, or depression lead to drug usage, or does drug usage contribute to financial, emotional and mental problems?

            I believe that much more extensive studies are needed in order to reach definite conclusions about the behavior patterns of the children of drug-addicted parents. As stated, our common sense would tell us that these drug-addicted parents are certainly impacting their children in a negative fashion, however in which specific ways and to what extent would have to be concluded with further studies that involve a much higher number of subjects containing a wider ethnic array. I believe it will probably be many years down the road before the full impact of parents’ drug use is completely realized and understood.

Reference Page

Nurco, D.S.W, et.al. Early Deviance and Related Risk Factors in the Children of Narcotic

Addicts. The American Journal for Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Retrieved September 11,

2006 from: http://www.essaywriters.net/sys/index.php?rate=20&order=17602