The article entitled “Family and Environmental Factors of Drug Addiction among Young Recruits” was contributed to August 2005 issue of Military Medicine by Marian Jedrzejczak. The study described in the article involved 559 subjects who underwent a medical examination in Poland in 2002. The population for the test was all-Polish and included prospective recruits who were about to join the army. Interested in the interrelationship between family conditions and probability of drug addiction in young people, the researcher turned to the examination of recruits in order to trace the relationship between family backgrounds and narcomania.
Jedrzejczak (2005) identifies three main factors that affect the likelihood of a young person starting to take drugs. These include the influence of socially unacceptable norms in the family, relatively easy access to drugs, and influence of peer group upon an adolescent’s behavior. Of these three, the scholar is particularly interested in the investigation of a pathological family’s impact upon a child’s behavior.
The researcher relies on concepts introduced in the work by J. Rogala-Oblekowska “Young People and Narcotics: Family Factors of Addiction”. Rogala-Oblekowska’s first conception of the family’s systemic influence on the drug addict’s behavior was related to scarce emotional exchange and lack of communication between parents and the child, which motivates the child to think that getting into trouble is the only way to attract attention.
The second conception refers to D.H. Stanton’s theory of cyclic processes in the addict’s family. In a family where there is open conflict between husband and wife, the child may use the addiction problem to shift the attention toward his or her life; as a result, addiction gets worse when the conflict aggravates so that parents switch their attention toward the child. When things get better again with the child’s dependence, the parents may start quarrelling again, which pushes the child to use addiction to detract their attention again.
Since the best way to counteract drug addiction is not to treat, but to prevent, the role of the family in this process deserves special attention. The research is aimed at finding the best ways of prevention, a task that makes it necessary to examine the factors that lead to narcotic dependence.
As the author states, her desire to contribute to the success of therapeutic interventions that depend to a great degree on the cooperation of the family has motivated her to “investigate empirically to what extent factors connected with family and environment affect the level of drug addiction among recruits” (Jedrzejczak 2005: 688-689). The hypothesis included the assumption that teenagers coming from families with hostile environments and loose family ties were more likely to fall victim to drug abuse. On the contrary, subjects from families that offered their children a lot of warmth and love were supposed to be less prone to develop narcomania.
The study was conducted in 2002, and the questions included the instances of drug use by adolescents at the time of the investigation. The author investigated the responses that were given by recruits who were undergoing a one-time medical examination before they were supposed to join the army.
The research was conducted in Poland. The author does not specify a more precise location saying it was an all-Polish test. The author decided to focus on a military environment because involvement in drug use was not earlier thought to affect the army. However, Jedrzejczak’s study demonstrates that a large number of young people may be inclined to take psychoactive substances during their army service.
The data obtained from the survey were subjected to both qualitative and quantitative analyses. The researcher applied SPSS 10.0 PL software package designed by SPSS, Chicago, IL. Analyzing mostly nominal variables, Jedrzejczak (2005) applied the difference significance x2 test. The significance level for testing the hypotheses was taken at p<0.05. To find correlation between the dependent variables, Jedrzejczak (2005) used the Cramer coefficient and the contingency coefficient.
The researcher concentrated on the investigation of the dependency between the frequency of drug use and variables such as strength of family ties, atmosphere in the family environment, sense of happiness, degree of authority possessed by mothers versus fathers, fathers’ active involvement in family life, and alcohol use by family members. The family atmosphere, for instance, was determined as one of three cases: “warm and love”, “indifference”, “ill will and hostility” (Jedrzejczak 2005: 689). These factors were taken to determine whether the family was pathological or not. Completeness or incompleteness of families was also taken into account, as well as the existence of recruits’ own families.
Jedrzejczak (2005) generalized the results of the study in the form of tables and graphs. Separating the investigated population into categories including opiate addicts, amphetamine addicts, those who used drugs occasionally, confirmed addicts and non-addicted adolescents, she presented the proportion of subjects with each family characteristic within each category. Thus, in Figure 2, the author demonstrates what percentage of opiate addicts has a drinking mother, father or sibling; the same information is given for all other categories.
Jedrzejczak (2005) arrives at the conclusion that there is a strong interdependence between the peculiarities of the family environment and drug addiction in children. Overall, recruits with obvious dependence tended to come from large cities or towns and pathological family environments. In a surprising development, 35.7% of drug-takers proved to be recruits who have already formed their own families, a fact they explained through separation from their wives and children.
While it is still too early to formulate the exact profiles of risk groups for drug-taking, the author suggests that individual emotional factors in families are of great importance. Here belong such factors as strength of family ties, the emotional atmosphere, sense of family happiness and emotional relationships. Thus, statistical examination of the information obtained from the survey revealed a rectilinear dependence between the family atmosphere and the incidence of drug abuse (p<0.05).
Thus, among recruits who took drugs from time to time, the proportion of those whose families had a warm and loving atmosphere was 37.9%, while this figure was only 1.9% for confirmed addicts and 1.4% for opiate addicts (Jedrzejczak 2005: 689). There was also a proven statistical interdependence between the strength of family ties and addiction trends: 42.26% of non-addicted youth reported strong ties versus 4% of confirmed addicts.
The researcher emphasizes that children with fathers who withdraw from families and demonstrate little interest in family matters have a greater likelihood of developing drug addiction. As a result, in these families, mothers more frequently have authority than fathers (54.4% versus 22.6%) (Jedrzejczak 2005: 690). Fathers’ withdrawal from family life is therefore taken to stimulate children’s involvement with drugs.
Another important family factor that contributes to the increased risk of psychoactive substance abuse in children was parents’ use of alcohol. This type of abuse in relatives was believed to add the risk of narcomania by 43.6% of subjects. The data in Figure 2 indicate that fathers were much more likely to abuse alcohol than mothers or siblings, with the proportion of drinking fathers as high as 61% for confirmed addicts (Jedrzejczak 2005: 690).
The research is of great importance to anyone interested in combating drug addiction. Highlighting once again the risk factors leading to narcomania, the study will help doctors and social workers develop the idea of what categories of teenagers are at risk for drug abuse. Since the study was done on a sample of recruits, it can also be used by officers willing to overcome drug addiction in their units.
Given the author’s admission that the results parallel the results of similar studies in other countries around the globe, it gives food for thought for researchers in different nations. It is also an advantage that the scholar did not only investigate the actual trends in youth, for instance, who came from what background, but also consulted the opinion of teenagers as to what factors they believed important in forming drug addiction.
In my opinion, for all the advantages and important insights obtained during the research, the study presented by Marian Jedrzejczak has its limitations. First of all, since she uses the recruit population, girls are excluded from the analysis. However, it is interesting to trace the impact of families both on boys and girls. Besides, one can question whether recruits are representative of Polish adolescents at this age.
One needs to know the legislation of Poland to see whether all youths are required to do an investigation. The author notes that her respondents “came mainly from incomplete and pathological families” (Jedrzejczak 2005: 689). Thus, the population may be skewed in one way or another, since I hope that not all Polish boys come from such unhappy backgrounds.
Besides, it would be interesting to find out exactly how often the young people labeled “taking drugs occasionally” are taking drugs. For example, if one takes drugs once in half a year, there is probably little reason for worry. The author does not state how she separated “addicted” from “non-addicted” youth, and it is important to know because what a person thinks about oneself may not always be true. Alcohol addicts, for example, often deny that they are addicted even if a doctor finds they are.
The role of the family is certainly the greatest influence in the socialization and development of the child’s personality. In adolescence, a young person is more and more impacted by peers and other environments. However, the family remains an important source of emotions, knowledge, cultural values and norms. Drug addiction is mostly the result of unhappiness and emotional instability, and these can come directly from the family. Even if the family is not directly responsible for a teenager’s problems, with a warm and loving atmosphere and involvement, parents and other relatives can make a great difference in the child’s life.
In my view, although the family is not the only important factor in forming drug addiction, the structure and emotional climate in the family do have a great influence on drug usage patterns. Thus, a child from a happy family may come into contact with drugs socializing with peers, but will most probably restrict use of these substances. Someone from a less stable background, on the contrary, will be forced to retreat into the world of illusion, hiding from worries in the real world. In addition, a child from a happy family does not have the motive to distract the parents from marital conflict as described in D.H. Stanton’s theory of cyclic processes in the addict’s family.
Coming from a stable and happy family, I never had the incentive to become a drug addict or to use drugs on an ongoing basis. Another reason why I shun drugs to this day is the fear instilled in me by my parents who instructed me to stay away from drugs because in their perception, most probably mistaken, anyone who has tried an injection once will most probably remain addicted for life.
Moving to the US, I, in their opinion, got into an environment where drug abuse was very high and thus was at greater risk of developing this habit myself. So they would often question me about different parties I went to. Each time they were eager to know what we did, if anybody was taking drugs, whether I did take them, and so on. Frankly speaking, sometimes I was forced to deceive them because I did witness some instances of drug use. Even so, I would hardly have been able to cheat them saying that I did not use drugs myself if I had done so.
Thus, my abstinence from drugs was caused to a great degree by the desire to please my relatives, to conform to their expectations. This was a serious motive for me because I hate to disappoint them in anything I do. Most importantly, however, I felt no need to escape the world in which I was living. With a loving family, enjoying my studies and other activities, I find that the world in which I live is interesting and full of opportunities. Doing drugs, I would tramp on many chances opened to me by life around me, such as career opportunities and personal interests.
Despite this favorable background, I have had exposure to facts and personal stories that revealed to me the importance of family in drug addiction. For example, when I was in the 6th grade, we had a company of friends who often hung out together.
A boy from this company, called Kim, later developed a drug addiction, which forced school authorities to expel him from school because he began to miss classes regularly and totally abandoned his studies. I heard rumors that Kim also had problems with his family after he stole his grandfather’s savings to buy drugs. I am not sure which type of drugs he was using, but I know for a fact that Kim was forced to undergo a course of treatment in a rehabilitation institution. This proved helpful since he was relieved from his dependence. However, this situation was extremely painful for him and his family.
It is interesting that my friend’s family was not openly unstable or financially insecure. Just the other way round, it was a relatively prosperous family where father occupied an important post in a local bank. His son’s drug story was a great disgrace to him, which was the reason why they tried to hush it up and explains why I know relatively little. Knowing my friend’s situation better than many, however, I was aware that behind the comfortable and well-off façade there was an open conflict between his mother and father. They lived together perhaps out of habit or desire to keep up appearances, or maybe even because of the children.
However, they perhaps should better have divorced because their constant scandals were depressing Kim and his sister. He would often come to school depressed and silent. On these days he just sat through classes, never taking part in discussions or homework review, although on other days he was an active and bright student. I learned from him later that these were the days when his parents had a row. The father never beat the children or mother or abused them in any other way; he simply chose to ignore them and retreat into his work where he was a successful and respected man.
The details of this sad story agree well with Marian Jedrzejczak’s research. Kim lacked a family atmosphere that could support him in his adolescent problems, connected with coming of age, such as strengthening self-assessment, building romantic relationships, defining career course. In contrast, his family was in itself a serious problem that detracted his attention from everything else. I believe his family atmosphere could be defined as full of “ill will and hostility” in terms used by Jedrzejczak.
Their family ties were also lacking strength. Although they saw each other on a daily basis, coming together each evening at dinner table, they did not have emotional ties that make a family. Talking to Kim, I realized that the sources of his parents’ conflict were not clear to him.
He did not understand his father with his withdrawal or his mother with her protest against this withdrawal. In their turn, his parents had a vague understanding of their child’s wants and needs. They were too absorbed in their own worries to pay attention to children and their problems. The only person close to Kim was his sister, and she was too young to sort out his troubles. Of course, she was also powerless to smooth the conflict between parents.
I think the father’s reluctance to pay attention to his family was the main factor that pushed Kim to start abusing narcotics. His sister who had a positive relationship with the mother turned out fine, although she has some of the nervousness present in her mother. In contrast, Kim, being a guy, most probably needed father’s involvement in his destiny more than his sister as help to move through male problems at adolescence. He lacked a role model in the face of his father whose example he did not want to follow even though his father was a successful and respectable man in his professional environment.
Kim’s family did not have any history of alcohol abuse; however, it had factors that stimulated substance dependence. In families with alcohol-dependent fathers or mothers, children are perhaps more inclined to follow their parents’ example. This could become the only example of adult behavior available to them at the time when they are growing up. Although they do see non-addicted adults such as teachers in a school or others, those are too distant, they will not see them on a daily basis, and do not know what is happening in their families. At the same time, fathers are always close by and children learn bad habits just by looking at them.
I have interacted with a couple of teenagers whose parents had drinking problems, but this happened already in the US. Most of them were indignant about this habit because they have had highly negative experiences because of their parents’ addiction. This indignation and the fact that they were geographically and emotionally distant from their fathers, coming from divorced families, inspires hope that they will not repeat their fathers’ mistakes. These youths were not eager to take drugs either.
Only one person who had alcohol-dependent parents confided in me that he tried alcohol for the first time at sixteen and continued to do so occasionally. I hope, however, that this youth will overcome the urge to become an addicted drinker or drug addict if such an urge arises. Although parents’ habits are a serious risk factor, I think the real reason why people drink or abuse drugs is unhappiness caused by various factors in their lives. I think neither easy availability of drugs nor peer pressure can force a person into dependence unless this person suffers some problems that seem impossible to resolve.
Family is one of forces that can prevent a person from feeling unhappiness or, on the other hand, lead to the feeling of unhappiness. A child or a young person is especially dependent on a family environment for the feeling of happiness and security. When a baby is born, the family is the only environment that surrounds him or her, and the child is initially almost completely dependent on influences of the family. Even when children get older and begin a more or less independent life in their adolescence, they are still seriously affected by all kinds of disorders in families. That is why strong family ties and secure emotional atmosphere in families seriously impact a child’s inclination to take drugs.
While drug addicts can be found in the most secure families, their incidence is much lower, as Jedrzejczak’s study shows. Warmth and love serve as an important barrier that in a way protects the child from harmful influences of the outside world, leading him or her to resist pressures from the outside. On the contrary, those from unhappy families are at greater risk because they are basically on their own overcoming difficulties and temptation of drug use. These facts are to be considered by physicians and other specialists who certainly cannot make all families happy, but can learn what kids are at greatest risk for developing an addiction and prepare to deal with their problems.
Jedrzejczak, Marian. “Family and Environmental Factors of Drug Addiction among Young Recruits.” Military Medicine 170.8 (August 2005): 688-690.