Family structure and substance use: A mediational analysis
McNamara, Grace Catherine
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A mediational model examining the relation between single-parent and blended family structure and substance use was proposed and tested with a heterogenous community sample of middle-school students who were surveyed over a three year period (grades 7-9, mean ages of 12 to 14 years). Multi-item measures of constructs from stress-coping, problem behavior, and social learning theory were included since these theories were used to generate hypotheses about how family structure may operate. Scales for family support, coping and competence, and negative life events were administered along with items about cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, and marijuana use. Hypotheses were tested using structural equation modeling performed with LISREL 7 in three data sets. Analyses, including multiple regression and structural equation modeling, identified family support, behavioral competence, and negative life events as mediating the effects of the family structure indicators on substance use, with control for the effects of ethnicity and parental smoking. Specifically, in the 7th and 8th-grade data sets, a path from blended family structure to lower family support was demonstrated. Also, a pathway from single-parent family structure to lower family support was evidenced in the 8th-grade data set. Moreover, in the 8th and 9th-grade data sets pathways from single-parent and blended family structure to lower behavioral competence were demonstrated. Finally, in all three data sets pathways from single-parent and blended family structure to more negative life events were demonstrated. This finding lends support to the proposition that youngsters growing up in single-parent or blended family structures may be exposed to more stress and/or exhibit a greater vulnerability to stress. Although the relationships demonstrated by the model were subtle, it indicated that family structure can begin a chain that may potentially be associated with substance use. The complexity of the relationships among the factors involved with substance use initiation in adolescents is discussed.