The Secret Way to Keep Your Kids Off Drugs

All those family meals together — they matter

Think it doesn’t matter if you don’t sit down to dinner with the kids every night?

Think again. A three-part study by, a California-based national online platform that educates parents and others about substance abuse and behavioral disorders among teens, made a compelling discovery. Teens who rarely or never eat dinner with their parents are twice as likely to get drunk than students who regularly share meals together.

Related: Imperfect Parents Can Do Great Things

The project relied on the 2014 and 2015 Monitoring the Future studies and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Researchers grouped eighth- and 10th-grade respondents into four categories, depending on who they lived with: their mother and father, their mother only, their father only, or neither parent. Then they studied what percentage of each group said they’d taken 13 different drugs illicitly.

Without exception, the usage rates were lowest for the “mother and father” group.

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More surprising, the researchers said, was that young people living with just their father had higher user rates of 12 of the 13 drugs than the mother-only group; the exception was Adderall (used without a prescription).

Ten of the 13 drugs were used at the highest rates by young people living with neither parent. When comparing the “both parents” to “neither parent” groups, the biggest difference was in heroin with a needle. The past-year usage rate was six times higher for the “neither” group than the “both” group.

[lz_table title=”8th to 10th Grade Drug Use” source=””]By Presence of Parents at Home
Mother and Father,16.5%
Mother Only,24.5%
Father Only,26.7%
Neither Parent,32.2%
|Any alcohol
Mother and Father,30.5%
Mother Only,34.1%
Father Only,37.7%
Neither Parent,41%
Mother and Father,5.3%
Mother Only,6.6%
Father Only,7.5%
Neither Parent,11.3%

Other findings of note: “Disciplined” students had lower rates of drinking or getting drunk than students whose parents didn’t enforce the rules, with the biggest difference showing up among students who were always allowed by parents to go out with friends on school nights. More than 12 percent had been drunk in the past month — versus 2.3 percent of the students who were never allowed out.

Kids who said they could speak to their parents about problems in their lives also reported lower rates of drinking.

“Every indicator of parental involvement we cross-tabulated with alcohol use showed some difference between teens with active, involved parents, and ones with absent or inattentive mothers and fathers,” said a spokesperson for

“The biggest difference was seen in teens whose parents allowed them to go out with friends on school nights. They reported being drunk in the past month at a rate 5.4 times higher than teens with parents who do not allow them to go out on school nights. This result makes sense, given the strong role peer pressure has in teen drinking,” D’Ottavio said.

Students who admitted to physically hurting someone in the past year were twice as likely to smoke marijuana than their non-consuming peers.

Additionally, 19.7 percent of students who didn’t smoke at all in the past month had an average grade of A, compared to only 3.7 percent of students who smoked one to five cigarettes a day. Students with an average grade of B to B- were the most likely to have consumed alcohol or been drunk in the past month.

“Although the correlations we’ve highlighted appear to suggest that the more restrictive parents are with their teenage child, the less chance there is of them drinking, it’s important to strike a balance between being permissive and authoritarian,” said D’Ottavio. “Research by the University of New Hampshire from 2012 showed that a child-rearing style that is too authoritarian is more likely to [result in] disrespectful, delinquent children than ‘authoritative’ parents who, while strict on rules, are highly attentive to their children’s emotional needs.”

Related: The Heavy Price of Persistent Pot Smoking

D’Ottavio added that other parts of the study showed certain deviant behaviors are associated with drug and alcohol use. Students who admitted to physically hurting someone in the past year were twice as likely to have smoked marijuana than their non-consuming peers.

[lz_ndn video=31253208]

Also, the researchers found that pediatricians don’t often screen young patients for drug or alcohol abuse. Given that most addicts begin using in their teenage years, they hope a growing body of evidence encourages physicians to look more closely for the warning signs of substance abuse during checkups.

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