Previous literature has shown a divergence by age in the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and substance use: adolescents with low SES are more likely to engage in substance use, as are adults with high SES. However, there is growing evidence that adolescents with high SES are also at high risk for substance abuse. The objective of this study is to examine this relationship longitudinally, that is, whether wealthier adolescents are more likely than those with lower SES to engage in substance use in early adulthood.
The study analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (AddHealth), a longitudinal, nationally-representative survey of secondary school students in the United States. Logistic regression models were analyzed examining the relationship between adolescent SES (measured by parental education and income) and substance use in adulthood, controlling for substance use in adolescence and other covariates.
Higher parental education is associated with higher rates of binge drinking, marijuana and cocaine use in early adulthood. Higher parental income is associated with higher rates of binge drinking and marijuana use. No statistically significant results are found for crystal methamphetamine or other drug use. Results are not sensitive to the inclusion of college attendance by young adulthood as a sensitivity analysis. However, when stratifying by race, results are consistent for white non-Hispanics, but no statistically significant results are found for non-whites. This may be a reflection of the smaller sample size of non-whites, but may also reflect that these trends are driven primarily by white non-Hispanics.
Previous research shows numerous problems associated with substance use in young adults, including problems in school, decreased employment, increases in convictions of driving under the influence (DUI) and accidental deaths. Much of the previous literature is focused on lower SES populations. Therefore, it is possible that teachers, parents and school administrators in wealthier schools may not perceive as great to address substance abuse treatment in their schools. This study can inform teachers, parents, school administrators and program officials of the need for addressing drug abuse prevention activities to this population of students.