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Parent's Incarceration Increases Likelihood of Child Substance Use Disorder

August 27, 2019

Researchers at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy have reported that children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely than other children to develop a substance use disorder. Their study employed a broad definition of “parental figure” that encompassed all adults with significant responsibility for a child's care or discipline.

The study, published Aug. 23 in JAMA Network Open, also found that children of incarcerated parents were nearly twice as likely to have diagnosable anxiety. Other outcomes that were more likely for these children as they transitioned into adulthood were being charged with a felony and becoming socially isolated.

“The increased risk for adverse adult outcomes remained after accounting for childhood psychiatric status and other adversities, suggesting that parental incarceration is associated with profound and long-lasting effects for children,” said former Duke researcher William E. Copeland, now at the University of Vermont.

The study was based on an analysis of data collected from 1993-2015 on the experiences of children from the Appalachian region of western North Carolina from age 9 to 30. Incarceration rates for parental figures were highest among Native Americans and African-Americans.

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