(dailyRx News) When young children use alcohol and illicit drugs, the effects on their mental health can be lasting and dramatic. Parenting is key to avoiding alcohol and drug use, but teachers can have an effect as well.
Sixth through eighth graders who felt that they had emotional support from teachers were at reduced risk of beginning to use alcohol or other substances. Additionally, students who had a strong relationship with their parents were less likely to begin using alcohol or drugs at an early age.
"Our results were surprising," says Carolyn McCarty, Ph.D., of Seattle Children's Research Institute. "We have known that middle school teachers are important in the lives of young people, but this is the first data-driven study which shows that teacher support is associated with lower levels of early alcohol use."
The researchers analyzed data from the Developmental Pathways Project, which looked at depression, anxiety, stress, and support issues for adolescents. The data was from 521 students in the Seattle area from 6th to 8th grades.
Students that reported feeling like they had emotional support from teachers were at less risk of using alcohol or illicit drugs. The students defined ‘teacher support’ as feeling close to a teacher and being able to talk with a teacher about their problems.
Also, the team found that the youth who were close with their parents were less susceptible to the negative influences of their peers - including alcohol and drug use.
"Based on the study and our findings, substance use prevention needs to be addressed on a multidimensional level," said McCarty. "We need to be aware of and monitor early adolescent stress levels, and parents, teachers and adults need to tune into kids' mental health. We know that youth who initiate substance abuse before age 14 are at a high risk of long-term substance abuse problems and myriad health complications."
The study was published March, 2012, online in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors and was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Seattle Children’s Hospital Steering Committee, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the University of Washington.