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Family Dinners Can Curb Teen Substance Abuse

By October 14, 2010

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If you want to keep your children away from alcohol, drugs and tobacco as long as possible, you might want to consider having frequent family dinners together. The more often you sit down together for a meal each week the less likely your children will become involved in substance abuse at a critical early age.

Research shows that teens who have infrequent family dinners are more than twice as likely to say they will do drugs in the future.

The latest edition of the study, "The Importance of Family Dinners VI," from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, has once again shown that frequent - five to seven per week - family dinners can make a big difference in kids' attitude about alcohol and other drugs.

This goes along with other research that shows that the better the relationship between parents and their children, the less likely the children will begin drinking and drugging early in life.

Talk to Your Children

In the latest CASA study, the researchers found that compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, those who have infrequent - less than three a week - family dinners are:

  • Twice as likely to have used tobacco
  • Almost twice as likely to have used alcohol
  • One and half times likelier to have used marijuana

The key for parents is not just eating together, but talking with their children about what is going on in their lives. The study found that teens who do not talk with their parents are twice as likely to have used tobacco and one and a half times likelier to have used marijuana.

Friends Who Use Drugs

The study also found that teens who have fewer than three family dinners per week are:

  • More than one and a half times likelier to have friends who drink regularly and use marijuana

  • One and half times likelier to have friends who abuse prescription drugs (to get high)

  • One and a quarter times more likely to have friends who use illegal drugs like acid, ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.

On the other hand, teens who have frequent family dinners are less likely to report having friends who use substances.

Ask About Their Lives and Listen

"The message for parents couldn't be any clearer ... 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. Ask questions and really listen to their answers," said CASA's Kathleen Ferrigno. "The magic that happens over family dinners isn't the food on the table, but the communication and conversations around it. Of course there is no iron-clad guarantee that your kids will grow up drug free, but knowledge is power and the more you know the better the odds are that you will raise a healthy kid."

The complete report, "The Importance of Family Dinners VI," is available online.

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