Family Dinners Reduce Teen Drug Use
Survey Shows Teens Who Don’t Eat Dinner With Families Are More Likely to Abuse Drugs
By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News 
Teens who don’t sit down with their families for dinners on a regular basis are much more likely to use alcohol, marijuana, or tobacco, compared to young people who do eat meals with their parents, a new study shows.
A report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) says that, compared to teens who eat dinner with their families five to seven times per week, those who don’t are twice as likely to have used tobacco, nearly twice as likely to have used alcohol, and 1.5 times likelier to have used marijuana.
The CASA report also says that:
72% of teens think eating dinner with their parents on a regular basis is very or fairly important.
Teens who have fewer than three family dinners per week are twice as likely to say they can obtain in an hour or less marijuana or prescription drugs they would use to get high, compared to peers eating five to seven family dinners weekly.
A Message for Parents
The report says 60% of teens who say they eat dinners with their families at least five times a week are less likely to say they have friends who use alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, or drugs that are prescribed for other people.
“The message for parents couldn’t be any clearer,” says Kathleen Ferrigno, CASA’s director of marketing. “With the recent rise in the number of Americans age 12 and older who are using drugs, it is more important than ever to sit down to dinner and engage your children in conversation about their lives, their friends, school – just talk.”
A Sept. 17 report by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said illicit drug use rose in 2009 by 8.7% among Americans age 12 and older. Ferrigno, who is also CASA’s head of an initiative called “Family Day-A Day to Eat Dinner With Your Children,” says in a news release that “the magic that happens over family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the communication and conversations around it.”
Knowledge Is Power for Parents
Ferrigno says there is no guarantee that any measures that parents take will keep kids drug free, but “knowledge is power and the more you know, the better the odds are that you will raise a healthy kid.”
The new CASA report also says that teens who have fewer than three family dinners per week, compared to peers who sit down with their families five to seven times, are:
More than 1.5 times likelier to have friends who drink regularly and use marijuana.
1.5 times likelier to have friends who abuse prescription drugs in order to get high.
1.25 times more likely to have friends who use illegal drugs such as LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.
“We have long known that the more often children have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs,” says CASA founder and chairman Joseph A. Califano Jr., who is a former secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. “In today’s busy and overscheduled world, taking the time to come together for dinner really makes a difference in a child’s life.”
The report’s findings are based on the National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XV: Teens and Parents. It involved a survey of 1,055 teenagers ages 12-17 and 456 parents.
Dinners and Family Relationships
The report, the Importance of Family Dinners VI, also says that teens who have frequent family dinners are about three times as likely to say they have an “excellent” relationship with their mothers and fathers. The youths who have frequent family dinners are also more than twice as likely to say their parents are good listeners.
It says that parents who are unable to make it to the dinner table can use other occasions to converse with their teens, and such talks should be routine.
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD