Using to Cope With Parental Deployment

Alcohol and substance use rates too high in kids with deployed parent

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Using alcohol or drugs during times of stress is the last thing a kid should be doing. But kids admitted to hitting the hard stuff when a parent was away on military deployment.

A recent study looked at survey results from middle and high school students about their drug and alcohol use.

The results showed that kids with a parent away on military deployment were more likely to drink, binge drink and use drugs compared to kids with non-military parents.

"Watch for substance use in children."

Laura Acion, PhD, MPH, from the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa, led an investigation into substance abuse in children with a military parent away on deployment.

When military personnel are deployed, they get shipped to an area outside the US for a period of one to 15 months. Deployment is a temporary assignment that often requires personnel to be stationed in unstable regions or near combat zones.

Deployment is not only for active duty personnel, but also for Reserve and National Guard personnel who do not live on military bases and lead civilian lives most of the time.

Previous studies have shown that children of deployed personnel and their caregivers experience higher stress and emotional and behavioral troubles than children with non-military parents.

According to the authors, nearly 2 million US children had at least one parent in active duty in 2010.

For this study, 78,240 children from Iowa, all students from the 6th , 8th and 11th grades, filled out surveys about their alcohol and drug use in 2010.

A total of 775 children had a deployed parent, 983 children had a recently returned military parent and 57,637 children had non-military parents.

Questions on the survey included:

  • How old were you (if ever) when you first drank more than a few sips of alcohol?
  • In the last 30 days, how many days did you have 5 or more alcoholic drinks within a few hours? Five or more drinks in one sitting is known as binge drinking.
  • In the last 30 days, how many days have you used marijuana?

The survey also asked about the use of inhalants like glue, gas or spray cans, methamphetamines, cocaine, crack-cocaine and prescription pills in the previous 30 days.

The results of the study showed that 85 percent of children with a deployed parent were not living with a parent at all. Of the children with a recently returned military parent, 91 percent were living with at least one parent. Of the children with non-military parents, 97 percent were living with at least one parent.

The majority of kids with a deployed parent said they lived with relatives, but 2 percent lived in a shelter, 3 percent lived on their own, 1 percent lived in foster care and 2 percent said they were living in an arrangement that was not listed in the survey.

In the non-military group, less than 1 percent lived in any situation that was not with a parent or relative.

In the deployed parent group, 36 percent had ever drunk alcohol. In the past 30 days, 22 percent had drunk, 18 percent had binge drunk, 10 percent had used marijuana, 10 percent had used illegal drugs and 15 percent had misused prescription medications.

In the non-military group, 28 percent had ever drunk alcohol. In the past 30 days, 14 percent had drunk, 10 percent had binge drunk, 5 percent had used marijuana, 3 percent had used illegal drugs and 7 percent had misused prescription medications.

The odds of a 6th grader with a deployed parent drinking in the past 30 days were nearly triple those of a 6th grader with a non-military parent. For 8th graders, the odds for binge drinking or using marijuana were more than double for those with a deployed parent compared to those with non-military parents.

“Children of deployed military personnel should be considered at higher risk for substance use than children of non-military citizens,” concluded the authors.

The authors recommended that schools and primary healthcare providers watch out for kids of deployed parents and provide support and early screenings for substance use. 

This study was published in March in Addiction.

The Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation, the Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center and the VA Merit Research Award helped support funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were found. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 3, 2013
Last Updated:
April 5, 2013