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Substance use
Early adolescent substance use and parental socio economic position earlier in life: birth cohort analyses
  1. R. Melotti1,
  2. J. Heron2,
  3. M. Hickman3,
  4. J. Macleod3,
  5. R. Araya1,
  6. G. Lewis1
  1. 1
    Unit of Psychiatry, Community Based Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  2. 2
    ALSPAC, Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  3. 3
    Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

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    To examine the association between different indicators of parental socio-economic position (SEP) and a range of substance use in their adolescent offspring.


    Longitudinal observational study.


    Population based birth-cohort from the early 90s in the Avon region (ALSPAC, UK).


    The sample consists of 5837 children (2877 boys and 2960 girls), who attended a face-to-face interview when they were aged 13 (80.5%) or 14.


    Alcohol consumption without parental permission, recent consumption of a whole drink, binge drinking (3+ drinks/24 hrs), ever and recent cigarettes and cannabis use. Information on parental SEP in the perinatal and early childhood period from self-administered questionnaires to the mother: both maternal and paternal registrar general social class, education and equivalised household disposable income accounting for family size, composition and housing benefits. The association between the SEP indicators and substance use was assessed using logistic regression models adjusting for child’s gender and age at attendance.


    26.1% (95% CI 25.0 to 27.3) reported using alcohol without parental permission and 20.7% (19.6 to 21.8) had ever drunk 3 or more drinks on one occasion. Smoking was reported in 19.2% (18.2 to 20.3) and cannabis use in 4.6% (4.1 to 5.2). Smoking was more prevalent in lower SEP groups irrespective of the SEP measure used. In contrast, there was a complex pattern of association between the different SEP measures and the alcohol and cannabis outcomes. For example, adolescents from the lowest quintile of income households reported less recent use of alcohol than those in the middle households (OR 0.76; 0.63 to 0.93). Binge drinking was more common in groups whose parents had lower educational levels. Children with mothers from higher social classes were at increased risk of alcohol use without parental permission. A consistent association between reported cannabis use and either social advantage or disadvantage was not apparent.


    Most health related behaviours, including smoking, are socially patterned and unhealthy behaviour is more prevalent in lower socioeconomic groups. Our results indicate a complex relationship between SEP and alcohol in a cohort of UK adolescents. Relatively low prevalence of cannabis use at this age precludes drawing any firm conclusions regarding its social patterning. The results might be explained by two contrasting influences. Higher income might increase the availability and therefore use of substances. In contrast, lower SEP groups might be more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviours.