Asking kids about drugs doesn't prompt drug use, study finds

October 5, 2017 by Kim Eckart, University of Washington
A University of Washington study has found that asking preteens about substance use doesn’t prompt them to try alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Credit: Lexie Flickinger/Flickr

It is an oft-repeated fear, particularly among parents: that discussing an undesirable behavior, or even an illegal or dangerous one, may encourage kids to try it.

But when it comes to asking pre-teens about alcohol, drug and tobacco use, a University of Washington-led study finds no evidence that children will, as a consequence of being asked about it, use the substance in question.

The study by the UW Social Development Research Group, published in the October issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, focused on school-based surveys of fifth- and sixth-graders to determine whether their behaviors changed over time. The research team found that, among two groups of students—one surveyed in fifth and sixth grade, and a control surveyed only in sixth grade—substance use did not increase following participation in the surveys.

Schools often students for a variety of purposes; this study, lead author John Briney said, indicates that surveys about substance use can provide useful information without increasing risk.

"We hope that it puts community members at ease about collecting data in the schools for prevention purposes. It's a relatively unobtrusive, inexpensive method to gather data," said Briney, senior data manager for the Social Development Research Group. "Communities can use data to guide prevention efforts and not worry they're harming students."

The research stems from a 2,000-student sample of respondents in the Community Youth Development Study, which was administered in seven states, including Washington. In the UW study sample, two-thirds of the students were surveyed in both fifth and sixth , with the remainder surveyed in sixth grade. About 40 percent of respondents were students of color; half were girls.

In both cohorts, students answered written questions about recent (past 30 days) and lifetime use of cigarettes, alcohol, inhalants, and marijuana.

Among sixth-graders who had been first surveyed in the fifth grade, 10.4 percent said they had smoked cigarettes during their lifetime; 20.8 percent had used alcohol; 10.8 percent had used inhalants; and 2.6 percent had smoked marijuana. These usage rates were actually lower than among the control group of sixth-graders—of whom 12.6 percent said they had smoked marijuana and 23.6 percent said they had used alcohol. Rates of lifetime use of inhalants and marijuana in the control sample were higher than rates in the initial sample but not statistically significant.

If the surveys had prompted substance use among the initial group of fifth-graders, then usage rates when they were in sixth grade should have been higher than those of the of sixth-graders, Briney explained.

"The study answered an important question—whether asking about substance use at a young age encourages use. We didn't think it would, and the data show that asking about drug use doesn't increase use," he said.

Conducting such a study in other locations, especially in states where has been legalized (this survey was conducted in 2004, prior to legalization in Washington) and among older students would be useful, and could yield slightly different results, Briney said.

Regardless, he added, for schools and communities that want information to guide prevention efforts, this study shows there is value, not harm, in asking such questions.

Explore further: Kids and high-intensity drinking

More information: John S. Briney et al. Testing the Question-Behavior Effect of Self-Administered Surveys Measuring Youth Drug Use, Journal of Adolescent Health (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.06.026

Related Stories

Kids and high-intensity drinking

September 6, 2017
About 2 percent of kids 14 to 16 years old report high-intensity drinking—drinking 10 or more drinks in a row—in the last two weeks, according to a University of Michigan study.

Survey shows lower levels of youth e-cigarette use, but experts still concerned

August 22, 2016
The 26th Indiana Youth Survey, conducted by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University's School of Public Health-Bloomington, highlights a decrease in the use of e-cigarettes among students in Grades 7 to ...

Gambling is associated with 'risk-taking behavior' in young teens, study finds

February 4, 2016
Gambling among young teens may be associated with increased use of alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana according to a study that surveyed sixth- to eighth-graders in Italian schools. The research is reported in the February ...

High use of electronic cigarettes seen in 8th-9th graders in Oregon

August 14, 2017
A study at Oregon Research Institute (ORI) shows that rates of electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use among Oregon 8th and 9th graders is higher than seen in national samples, and that e-cigarette use is closely linked with ...

Medical students need training to prescribe medical marijuana

September 15, 2017
Although 29 states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana use for medical purposes, few medical students are being trained how to prescribe the drug. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis ...

Indiana: Upward trend in marijuana use, smokeless tobacco

September 1, 2011
Alcohol use by Indiana sixth- through 12th-graders has declined, but findings from the 21st Annual Survey of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use also revealed a continuing increase in marijuana and smokeless tobacco use.

Recommended for you

Hair products for Black women contain mix of hazardous ingredients

April 25, 2018
A new report published today in the journal Environmental Research shows that Black women are potentially exposed to dozens of hazardous chemicals through the hair products they use.

Mediterranean diet boosts beneficial bacteria

April 25, 2018
Here's another reason to eat a Mediterranean-type diet: It's good for your gut.

Consuming protein supplements with meals may work better for weight control

April 25, 2018
A new systematic review of available evidence appearing in Nutrition Reviews indicates that consuming protein supplements with meals may be more effective at promoting weight control than consuming supplements between meals ...

Drinking affects mouth bacteria linked to diseases

April 24, 2018
When compared with nondrinkers, men and women who had one or more alcoholic drinks per day had an overabundance of oral bacteria linked to gum disease, some cancers, and heart disease. By contrast, drinkers had fewer bacteria ...

Potential for sun damage should be carefully balanced with need for vitamin D in children, say scientists

April 24, 2018
Scientists at King's College London are encouraging parents and carers to ensure even more rigorous protection of children against the harmful effects of the sun. The comments follow a study which has suggested that children ...

Millennials aren't getting the message about sun safety and the dangers of tanning

April 24, 2018
Many millennials lack knowledge about the importance of sunscreen and continue to tan outdoors in part because of low self-esteem and high rates of narcissism that fuel addictive tanning behavior, a new study from Oregon ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.