Through a new study researchers have establish a link between parental absence in early childhood and increased risk of children starting to smoke and drink alcohol even before they reach the teenage years.
The study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood involved data from UK Millennium Cohort Study, which has been tracking the health of almost 19,000 children born between 2000 and 2002, in regular surveys. For the purpose of the study, parental absence was defined as the ‘loss’ of a biological parent before the child was seven years old.
The study involved surveys at the age of nine months after birth with subsequent studies at the age of three, five, seven and eleven years. At the age of eleven researchers asked the children whether they had ever smoked or drunk alcohol, and whether they had ever consumed enough to feel drunk.
Researchers had data of almost 11,000 children on which to base their findings. Scientists revealed that their analysis showed that children who had experienced parental absence before the age of seven were more than twice as likely to have taken up smoking and 46 per cent more likely to have started drinking alcohol by the age of 11.
There was no bearing on which parent was missing, the researchers note in their study. They did find that those whose parent had died were less likely to have consumed alcohol by the age of 11, however among those who did, they were more than 12 times as likely to get drunk, compared to children whose parents were absent for other reasons.
“Associations between parental absence and early smoking and alcohol consumption may operate through a range of mechanisms, such as reduced parental supervision, self-medication, and adoption of less healthy coping mechanisms,” the researchers said.