Legal Articles

September 16, 2013

Upbringing in poverty raises risk of smoking

A new study carried out by Duke University researchers looked at substance abuse by children based on wealth and affluence. They found that children raised in poorer circumstances are more likely than children raised in wealth to smoke cigarettes, less likely to binge drinking, and no more likely to abuse marijuana. Economic struggles in the early years seems to affect teens’ self-control and decision-making abilities, regardless of the type of parenting techniques they experienced.

Poverty affects development and self-control

Bernard Fuemmeler, associate professor in community and family medicine at Duke, acted as the study’s senior author. He said, “Poverty during childhood not only appears to affect child development, but can have lasting effects on the types of health choices made during adolescence and early adulthood, especially as it relates to cigarette smoking.” He went on, “Economic strains may shape an individual’s capacity for self-control by diminishing opportunities for self-regulation, or affecting important brain structures.”

The study’s information came from 1,285 children and caregivers throughout the United States between 1986 and 2009. In addition to being more prone to taking up smoking, kids and teens from poverty had lower self-discipline.

Binge drinking more likely in wealthy families

Binge drinking is defined as four to five alcoholic drinks consecutively and tends to be found more often in affluent families. However, young people with parents who were positive role models, were nurturing, and reinforced good health choices were generally less likely to use any of the three substances.

Common beliefs on substance abuse challenged

The researchers said these findings “challenge common beliefs about what leads to substance abuse, and may shed light on better approaches to help prevent young people from becoming drug and alcohol addicts.” Fuemmeler explained, “We suspected we’d find a relationship between parenting and economic problems—the idea that economic strains may cause parents to have less capacity to deal with their children . . . That means it’s not necessarily poverty that affects the parenting strategy, but poverty that affects the children’s self-control.”


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