USC Study: Children’s Drug Use Increases When a Family Member Is Deployed

January 22, 2013

Wartime Deployments Can Lead to Drug and Alcohol Abuse for Teens at Home

Multiple deployments during the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not only impacting the men and women who have served overseas, but the children they leave behind, according to a new study from USC.

Researchers at the USC School of Social Work found a correlation between increased drug and alcohol use among middle and high school students and deployments of either a military parent or sibling. The study appears in the January issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“The potential for strain and the trauma associated with multiple deployments in the past 10 years of war seem to be driving this. People need to be aware that these experiences have an impact,” says Tamika Gilreath, an assistant professor in the USC School of Social Work and the lead author.

The co-authors of the study are Julie Cederbaum and Ron Avi Astor, both of the USC School of Social Work; Rami Benbenishty of the Bar Ilan University School of Social Work in Jerusalem, Israel; and Diana Pineda and Hazel Atuel, also in the USC School of Social Work.

The analysis questioned 14,149 seventh, ninth and eleventh graders in Southern California schools, part of the California Healthy Kids Survey, which asks students questions about health-related behaviors, school climate, violence behaviors and the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. In early 2011, the survey included a new supplementary “military module” survey, which allowed researchers for the first time to compare the experiences of military and non-military students in regular public schools.

The survey also found that the prevalence of drug use was higher among those with a sibling serving in the military — a topic that has received minimal attention.

“Everyone talks about the impact of parents, but no one talks about the impact of other close family members, such as a sibling,” Gilreath said. “If a sibling, as an adult, is using drugs and alcohol, a younger adolescent sibling might model the behavior.”

In addition, the heavy involvement of military reservists and National Guard members during this unprecedented time of war means that even though their families are exposed to the same stressors associated with deployment, they may not have access to the same support services as active duty members, Gilreath said.

As military members transition to veteran status, their families may also lack resources to help them cope with the changes.

The study calls for additional community- and school-based services designed to support military-connected students and their family members during deployments, as well as during periods of reintegration.

“As more veterans returns, the military and the schools need to think about how they are using their resources and extending those resources to the families of those serving in the military,” Gilreath said.

Contact: Andrew Good at and 213-740-8606.