Early age at childhood parental incarceration and STI/HIV-related drug use and sex risk across the young adult lifecourse in the US: Heightened vulnerability of black and Hispanic youth

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2018 Feb 1;183:231-239. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.11.006. Epub 2017 Nov 24.


Background: We measured associations between parental incarceration and STI/HIV-related drug use and sex risk, assessing differences by race, age at first parental incarceration, and potential mediators of the relationship.

Methods: We used Waves I (adolescence), III (young adulthood), and IV (adulthood) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (n = 11,884) to measure associations between age of parental incarceration (never; <8; 8-17; ≥18 years old) and marijuana and cocaine use, multiple partnerships, and STI in adolescence and adulthood among white, Black, and Hispanic participants and assessed mediation by sexual and physical abuse, mental disorder symptoms, and drug use.

Results: By Wave IV, approximately one in six had experienced a parental incarceration; higher prevalence observed among black (26%) and Hispanic (20%) versus white (15%) respondents (p < 0.0001). Parental incarceration at any age was moderately to strongly associated with STI/HIV risk outcomes. In multivariable models, parental incarceration at age <8 years old (versus never) remained strongly associated with STI/HIV risk in both adolescence and adulthood, with strongest associations among non-whites. Among black participants, parental incarceration at <8 years old was associated with over double the odds of adulthood use of marijuana (adjusted odds ratio (AOR): 2.53, 95% confidence interval: 1.62, 3.95) and cocaine (AOR: 4.41, 95% CI: 2.05, 9.48). Delinquency, drug use, and mood disorders appeared to partially mediate the relationship.

Conclusions: Children impacted by parental incarceration constitute priority populations for substance use and STI/HIV prevention and treatment. The unintended consequences of incarceration for children should be considered in decarceration discussions.

Keywords: Adolescence; Drug use; HIV; Parental incarceration; Race; STI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Age Factors*
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • Hispanic Americans / psychology
  • Hispanic Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Parents*
  • Prevalence
  • Prisoners*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult