A new study has suggested that father's incarceration is linked with substantially elevated risks for illegal drug use in adolescence and early adulthood.
Researchers from Bowling Green State University used the data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative sample of adolescents in schools in 1995, who were periodically followed into their early to mid-20s.
The study examined the association between having an incarcerated biological father and marijuana and other illegal drug use.
Over 51 percent of young men, and almost 40 percent of young women, whose biological fathers had a history of incarceration reported using marijuana, compared to 38 percent and 28 percent, respectively, of comparable men and women whose fathers were never incarcerated.
Youth with incarcerated fathers also exhibited elevated trajectories of marijuana usage that extended into their mid-twenties, compared to other youth whose marijuana use peaked at about age 20.
Biological father's incarceration was also found to be associated with elevated use of other illegal drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.
"Long-term drug use may exacerbate many other problems faced by disadvantaged youth, including mental health issues, delinquency, dropping out of school, domestic violence and poverty," said the study's lead author Michael Roettger of the National Centre for Family and Marriage Research.
Roettger noted "this is of particular concern within poor and minority communities where incarcerations are disproportionately located."
The researchers are careful to note, however, that this is a non-experimental study, and that the relationships observed are associations, and should not be taken to indicate a causal process.
"Further research is needed to more fully examine if it is father's incarceration, or other closely related factors such as father's criminality, family histories of drug use, or stresses associated with family instability, that are driving these detrimental relationships" cautioned Raymond Swisher, one of the study's co-authors.
The findings were published in the journal Addiction.