Objectives: The aim of this study was, first, to explore family structure and measures of family functioning in relation to adolescent substance use and secondly, to establish if these relationships differed according to gender or according to the city of origin of the sample.
Design, setting, participants: The study surveyed pupils aged 14-15 years in representative samples drawn from five European cities: Newcastle upon Tyne, Dublin, Rome, Bremen and Groningen. Data were obtained on 3984 participants in relation to their substance use, living with both biological parents, confiding in parents and grandparents. and supervision, as well as other variables representing delinquency, social class and drug availability.
Results: Living with both parents was associated with reduced levels of drug use in four cities but not in Dublin, due perhaps to the high availability from peers in that city. It was not associated with reduced levels of regular drinking. The effect of confiding in mother was evident in all cities and in relation to substance use in general. However, when a delinquency variable was added to the logistic regressions, its significance in relation to polydrug use disappeared. Supervision was somewhat more important in relation to male than female drug use.
Conclusion: Living with both parents is a less robust barrier to substance use than qualitative aspects of family life, particularly attachment to mothers. The latter is a robust inhibitor of substance use irrespective of regional differences in drug availability, weakening only in the face of more generally problematic behaviour. Perhaps because of their greater tendency to risk-taking or rule breaking, supervision appears more important for male than female drug use. These findings underscore the role of families, but especially that of mothers, in regulating the substance-related behaviour of young people.