Understanding the dimensions of parental influence on alcohol use and alcohol refusal efficacy among African American adolescents.

Author:Clark, Trenette T.

Empirical evidence indicates that parental factors may be important protective factors for adolescents. Less is known about the dimensions of parental influence on alcohol use among African American adolescents. The purpose of this investigation was to examine parental influence and its relationship to alcohol refusal efficacy and use among African American adolescents and how it differs according to community type, gender, and age. A total of 564 African American fifth-, eighth-, and 12th-grade students participated in this study. The findings suggest that several dimensions of parenting affect alcohol use of children in both direct and indirect ways. Parental monitoring and control, parental disapproval of alcohol use, and relationships with mothers and fathers directly affected alcohol use, alcohol refusal efficacy, or both. Several of the direct effects were attenuated by community type, gender, and age, suggesting the need to examine the context and conditions under which alcohol is more likely to be consumed by African American youths. Implications for research and prevention programming are offered.

KEY WORDS: drugs; substance use; youths


Most adolescent drug prevention programs are school based and teach youths strategies to manage peer pressure to refuse drugs. However, the number of family-based prevention programs that include both parents and children is growing. These programs are based on evidence that factors such as parental drug use (Brook, Whiteman, Balka, & Cohen, 1997), parental monitoring (Stattin & Kerr, 2000), quality of the parent-adolescent relationship (Bahr, Hoffman, & Yang, 2005), and parental attitudes concerning drug use (Yu, 2003) have direct effects on drug use and buffer against the negative influence of peers during adolescence. Yet little research has been devoted to studying the dimensions of parental influence and its relationship to drug use in general and alcohol use in particular among African American adolescents. Understanding what contributes to alcohol use (or nonuse) is important because alcohol is a "legal" drug (albeit not for those under 21) that is readily accessible in many African American neighborhoods and communities (Wallace & Muroff, 2002).

A need exists to identify how parents can use their influence to reduce domain-specific peer risk factors on the attitudes and behaviors of their children (Brooks-Gunn & Markman, 2005; Chapple, Hope, & Whiteford, 2005; Drapela & Mosher, 2007). This is especially important for youths who may not have access to extracurricular, faith-based, or community programs that often provide protective buffers against peer and community risks (Brooks-Gunn & Markman, 2005; Burlew et al., 2009; Drapela & Mosher, 2007; Hirschi, 1969). In these cases, parental influences may be the lone or strongest protective factor against not only alcohol and drug use, but other youth risk behaviors, including premature sexual behaviors and delinquency (Brooks-Gunn & Markman, 2005; Chapple et al., 2005; Drapela & Mosher, 2007; Hirschi, 1969; Patterson, DeBaryche, & Meece, 1989).

In this study, we focused on alcohol use because it is one of the primary drugs of choice among youths, it is easily accessible, and African American youths are exposed to alcohol advertising at substantially higher rates than youths from other ethnic groups (Wallace & Muroff, 2002).We explored how dimensions of parental influence on alcohol refusal efficacy and use among African American adolescents differs according to community type (that is, urban or rural), gender, and age. Previous studies have found differences in the prevalence and patterns of predictors of alcohol use among African American adolescents living in rural and urban communities. In a study of 907 African American students in grades 10 and 12, Clark, Nguyen, and Belgrave (in press) found that peer and individual risk/protective factors were more influential for urban youths and that family and community risk/protective factors were more influential for rural youths. In addition, Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, and Schulenberg (2004) found that girls are disproportionately affected by alcohol and other drug use. There is also a general consensus that the prevalence of alcohol and other drug use differs according to age.


Alcohol use is linked to the two leading causes of death among African American youths and young adults: unintentional injuries (including motor vehicle accidents) and homicides (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009). In addition, African American youths experience increasingly more alcohol-related social and academic problems when compared with white youths (Barnes & Welte, 1986; Moss, 2005; Mulia, Ye, Greenfield, & Zemore, 2009). In a representative sample of 27,335 students in grades 7 through 12,Welte and Barnes (1987) found that these problems included conflicts with youths' teachers, friends, and police and attending school drunk. Specifically, African American adolescents who reported alcohol use reported 5.9 alcohol-related problems per month, West Indian adolescents reported 3.8 problems per month, and white adolescents reported 2.2 problems per month. These findings were particularly concentrated among female adolescents, who apparently experience higher levels of negative consequences of alcohol use than do male adolescents, although male adolescents are likely to consume alcohol at higher levels of frequency and in greater quantities than female adolescents (Wilsnack, Vogeltanz, Wilsnack, & Harris, 2000).

The prevalence of alcohol use among African American adolescents has remained fairly steady during the past several years. In 2006, among individuals 12 to 20, past-month alcohol use rates were highest among white Americans and lowest among African Americans (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2007). Among this age group, current alcohol use was 32.3% among white Americans, 31.2% among American Indians or Alaska Natives, 27.5% among individuals reporting two or more races, 25.3% among Hispanics, 19.7% among Asians, and 18.6% among African Americans. Although alcohol use is lower among African American adolescents, the substantially higher alcohol-related problems experienced by African American youths creates an urgent need for preventive interventions that are grounded in theoretical perspectives that are meaningful to the populations served. This study builds on previous research efforts to identify parenting dimensions that influence alcohol use among African American youths.

This study examined whether parental influence moderated the risky peer-adolescent alcohol refusal efficacy and use relationship and whether community type, gender, and developmental differences moderated the relationship between parental influence and alcohol refusal efficacy and use. This article accomplishes three goals: (1) increases understanding of the dimensions of parental influence on alcohol refusal efficacy and use among African American adolescents; (2) stimulates additional research on parental monitoring, parental control, and relationships between parents and their children; and (3) provides empirical support for emphasizing parenting factors in adolescent alcohol preventive interventions. Our review includes an overview of previous research on the primary study variables.


Parent-Adolescent Relationship

Parental attachment or bond is the degree of closeness that adolescents feel toward their parents (Barber, 1997). Recent studies have conceptualized parental attachment and bond separately, as attachment to mother and attachment to father (for example, Dorius, Bahr, Hoffmann, & Harmon, 2004).Bahr et al. (2005) found that weak attachment to mother significantly predicted cigarette, alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drug use. Castro, Brook, Brook, and Rubenstone (2006) found that low maternal affection at time 1 was related to adolescent drug use for boys and girls at time 2, one year later.

Although fewer African American adolescents live with their fathers than with their mothers, many maintain contact with their fathers. Moreover, positive parent-child relationships are likely to have significant conventionalizing influences on youth alcohol use, and these effects may be strongest in cases of father-child relationships (Brody, Flor, Hollet-Wright, McCoy, & Donovan, 1999). Bahr et al. (2005) found that attachment to father significantly predicted cigarette, alcohol, binge drinking, and illicit drug use. Turner, Larimer, and Sarason (2000) suggested that levels of father-child conflict influenced levels of adolescent alcohol use, especially among male adolescents.

Parental Control

Parental control is conceptualized as rules and limit setting on children's behaviors (that is, requiring permission before leaving home) (Stattin & Kerr, 2000). Parental control is negatively related to current alcohol use and other drug use (Robbins, Enev, Oconnell, Gealt, & Martin, 2011). In general, the literature suggests that firm rules and limit setting are healthy and lead to positive adolescent outcomes, whereas rigid rules and limit setting may lead to negative adolescent outcomes. For example, parents who set rigid limits tend to have boys who are more aggressive (Lochman, Cohen, & Wayland, 1991), which increases their risk for substance use (Lochman, 2003)...

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