Statistics in 2010 show that nearly 2 million children in America had a parent active in the military. A recently concluded study by the University of Iowa is now suggesting that when a military parent is deployed, their children are experiencing an increased risk for substance abuse behaviors such as alcoholism and drug use.
The results of this study come from a statewide survey involving Iowa students in sixth, eighth and eleventh grades. Researchers used this data to discover that children of parents who were deployed or who recently returned from deployment experienced a sharp increase in binge drinking, alcohol use, marijuana use and the use or abuse of other illegal drugs. Many surveyed students also admitted to abusing or misusing prescription medications as well.
The most notable finding was that children of deployed military parents or parents who were just returning from active duty were abusing these substances at a much higher rate in comparison to children who are in non-military families. This perceived increase in risk was noted consistently across all of the surveyed age groups. The findings for this study were recently published in a journal called Addiction.
The survey in question was initially developed in 1999 by the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation. Its aim was to look at how a child’s substance abuse tendencies may change when a military parent goes on deployment. The state of Iowa administers this survey every two years, allowing participating students to answer questions about experiences with and attitudes about alcohol, violence and drugs online. They are also given the opportunity to give perceptions of their community, family, school and peers. In 2010, 69 percent of all students in the sixth, eighth and eleventh grades participated in the survey.
59,395 responses were polled regarding whether or not student had at least one military parent and whether or not they were currently on deployment. 775 students, or 1.3 percent of students surveyed had a parent currently on deployment. 983 students or 1.7 percent had a parent who had recently returned. 97 percent of all responses, or 57,637, were students who did not have a military parent. According to the survey responses, there was a substantial risk increase among students who had a parent on deployment or who had recently returned from deployment.
The Iowa Youth Survey or IYS indicated that the belief that students would experience an increase in substance abuse behavior risk when a parent went on deployment was correct. One example is that sixth grade students in non-military families had a binge drinking rate of approximately two percent. For children belonging to military families involving a deployment, that percentage rate jumps steeply to seven.
A second finding, which was unexpected but no less important, is that the disruption of a child’s living arrangements could also increase his or her risk of substance abuse. When at least one of their parents is deployed, there Is a greater percentage increase of children who are not residing with their natural parents. They may live with another relative or may go outside of the family entirely, and this change in living arrangements can drastically increase the risk of marijuana use, binge drinking and other types of substance abuse and addiction.
It was found that a child living outside of their family with at least one parent deployed in the military experienced a binge drinking risk that was higher by 42 percentage points as compared to students from typical, non-military families. Children with one or more deployed parents who still resided at home with a parent had a binge drinking risk that was only 8 percentage points greater than children belonging to non-military families.
It is believed that the nature of the military population in Iowa may be playing a role in these results because the survey and subsequent study only focused on Iowa children. States like Iowa, Wisconsin, Vermont and Minnesota have military populations that are primarily comprised of National Guard and Reserve members.
States where there is a larger proportion of National Guard and Reserve members may be affected more greatly by the increased risk of substance abuse in children.
Findings are suggesting that military families, especially those that experience deployment, need to be aware of the potential increase in risk for school-aged children and substance abuse. Being more mindful of this potential issue can help to decrease the risk in families where a parent does have to go away on deployment for any length of time. All substance abuse problems are severe and must be taken seriously by all those involved. Families who suspect a child may be abusing a substance such as binge drinking or marijuana use should seek the right type of help from an alcoholism rehabilitation facility or a drug addiction treatment center so the problem will resolve more quickly and effectively.