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SAMHSA News - July/August 2008, Volume 16, Number 4

Parent Awareness of Youth Substance Use Varies

A new SAMHSA study presents data on just how many parents know about their children’s drug and alcohol use.

The combined data—based on SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2002 to 2006—are presented in a new short report, Parent Awareness of Youth Use of Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Marijuana.

NSDUH includes a sample of parents and children living in the same household—that is, a child age 12 to 17 and his or her biological, step, adoptive, or foster parent—and asks youth and parents about alcohol and illicit drug use.

Youth were asked if they used these substances during the past year. Parents were asked whether they thought their children used these substances during the same time period. Parents were considered to be “aware” of their children’s substance use if both the parent and child in each pair reported that the child used a specific substance during the past year.

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Data from the 2006 NSDUH indicate that in the sample of youth age 12 to 17, a total of 17.0 percent used cigarettes in the past year, 32.9 percent used alcohol, and 13.2 percent used marijuana.

Mothers know. According to the report, mothers were more knowledgeable about their children’s substance use than fathers. Mothers in one-parent households had the highest rates of awareness of their child’s past-year substance use. The next highest rate of awareness was for mothers in two-parent households, followed by fathers in two-parent households.

One-parent or two-parent households. In general, adolescent substance use was higher within one-parent households than within two-parent households. For example, 20.2 percent of youth age 12 to 17 in mother-child pairs within one-parent households used cigarettes in the past year, compared with 16.8 percent of youth in mother-child pairs within two-parent households.

Age. Parent awareness of children’s use of cigarettes and alcohol increased as the children’s age increased. For example, only 33.4 percent of mothers in mother-child pairs with children age 12 to 14 who used alcohol in the past year were aware of their children’s alcohol use. However, 60.5 percent of mothers with children age 15 to 17 who used alcohol in the past year were aware of their use.

To download this report, visit SAMHSA’s Web site at

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Reading List for Parents

Several SAMHSA News articles provide parents with more data on potential substance abuse issues involving youth.

Adolescents Do What Every Day?, November/December 2007

In a first-of-its-kind report, SAMHSA reveals that a young person’s average day often includes drinking, smoking, or using illicit drugs.

Statistics on Inhalants Show Young Teens at Risk, March/April 2008

For some 12- and 13-year-olds, getting high is as simple as looking under the sink or out in the garage. A SAMHSA report focuses on the widespread—and dangerous—abuse of common household substances.

Underage Drinking: Action Guides for Families, Educators, July/August 2007

Sometimes, parents need help talking to their kids about alcohol. These 14-page guides include strategies to prevent young people from taking that first sip.

These articles are available on SAMHSA’s Web site at


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