Monday, February 8, 2016

Characteristics of Child Maltreatment and Adolescent Marijuana Use

There has been increasing acceptance of marijuana use in the US in recent years, and rates among adolescents have risen. At the same time, marijuana use during adolescence has been linked to an array of health and social problems. Maltreated children are at risk for marijuana use, but the relationships among characteristics of maltreatment and marijuana use are unclear. 

In this paper we examine how the type and the extent of maltreatment are related to the level of adolescent marijuana use. Data analyses were conducted on a subsample of maltreated adolescents (n = 702) from the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) project. Approximately half the sample had used marijuana, and maltreatment was associated with its use. 

Multivariate regression models showed that being male, extensive maltreatment, and peer marijuana use were associated with heavy use of marijuana. 

These findings suggest the importance of comprehensively assessing children’s maltreatment experiences and their peers’ drug use to help prevent or address possible marijuana use in these high-risk adolescents.

…Maltreatment was associated with marijuana use in bivariate models, but did not retain significance in models that adjusted for peer marijuana use. In terms of type of maltreatment, sexual abuse predicted marijuana use. This finding is consistent with earlier research (; ) which found that physical abuse and sexual abuse (and these combined) predicted substance abuse or dependence, although not specifically marijuana use. Physical abuse has also been found to predict earlier onset of substance use in young adolescents (). Those who experienced Extensive maltreatment were more likely to report Heavy Use of marijuana. This finding is consistent with research suggesting the importance of both early (e.g., ) and recent (i.e., adolescent) exposure to maltreatment (e.g., ). It appears likely that persistent exposure to maltreatment carries an especially high level of risk for adolescent substance use (). Indeed, Extensive CM was the one characteristic that significantly predicted adolescent marijuana use, after taking into account demographic variables and peer use.

With these caveats, this study’s findings, especially given earlier research, strongly suggest that children exposed to physical and sexual abuse are at increased risk of marijuana use. Child-serving professionals should begin to integrate the findings from this and other studies into discussions about effective interventions to decrease the likelihood of vulnerable populations engaging in illicit drug use – in this case, marijuana. Prior research suggests the importance of primary prevention and early intervention. Adolescents who use substances have been found to increase their use during adolescence (; ). This may be part of a risk-taking or emotional coping approach common among adolescents with maltreatment experiences (). Alternatively, recent research with veterans has highlighted the possibility that use of marijuana may be a form of self-medication of some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (), and our findings are consistent with this possibility as well. In any case, earlier studies have found that maltreatment and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) increase the likelihood of future substance use well into adulthood (; ; ; ). Therefore, it is important to disrupt these potential trajectories at the earliest possible stage…

Full article at:

Howard Dubowitz, Department of Pediatrics, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore;
Corresponding Author: Howard Dubowitz, Department of Pediatrics, University of Maryland School of Medicine, 520 West Lombard Street, 1stFloor, Baltimore, Maryland 21201

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