Girls exposed to heroin-addicted parent tougher than boys

February 12th, 2009 - 3:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 12 (IANS) Girls growing up with a heroin-addicted parent and going through adversarial experiences before 18 become four times tougher than boys.
These experiences include family mental illness, having a parent jailed, family violence, being a victim of abuse and having a parent die. A study found 70 percent of the children were exposed to two or more of these events.

Besides, 62 percent had three or more adverse experiences and 22 percent reported four or more. By contrast, just three percent reported no adverse experiences other than having an opiate-dependent parent.

“These are very high-risk kids with at least one parent who is addicted to heroin,” said Martie Skinner, research scientist with University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group and study co-author.

“What we mean by resilience is a reasonable transition to adulthood by working or being in school, avoiding substance abuse and staying out of trouble with the law in the past five years. These seem like ordinary expectations, but only 30 of the 125 young adults we studied met them,” said Skinner, according to a university release.

Women were more likely to be resilient, primarily because males were more likely to have had criminal charges, she said. The study was based on data collected from young adults at two points in time from families recruited at two Seattle-area methadone clinics.

The families initially were recruited between 1991 and 1993 for an intervention study of opiate-dependent parents in methadone treatment and their families. Their children were re-interviewed in 2005 and 2006 when they were an average of 23 years old. The young adults were predominately white or mixed race and almost equally divided by sex.

The rates of exposure to adverse childhood experiences far exceeded those in an earlier general survey of 15,000 adults enrolled in a California hospital plan. In the California study, 22 percent reported having three or more childhood adversities (vs. 62 percent in the new study) and 36 percent (vs. three percent) reported none.

The research was published in the current issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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