Teens who see others drink or use drugs are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior on that same day, a new study suggests. The risk is greatest for young teens who have a “risk-taking” gene linked with sensitivity to substance use exposure.
The 151 teens enrolled in the study used their phones to respond to survey questions three times daily for a month, to allow for real-time reports of what they were experiencing, according to MedicalXpress. The teens in the study were 11 to 15 years old.
The study compared teens’ behavior on days when they were around people using drugs or alcohol to their behavior on days when they did not witness substance use. They determined whether witnessing substance use was linked with antisocial behavior such as stealing, damaging property or hitting or hurting someone.
Witnessing substance abuse triggered misbehavior for both boys and girls. The rates were especially high for the 30 percent of teens in the study who carried the so-called “risk-taking” gene, called DRD4-7R. On days teens were exposed to others using alcohol or drugs, those without the gene were twice as likely to engage in antisocial behavior, while those with the gene were six times as likely.
“Past research has shown that children who grow up in families, schools and neighborhoods where alcohol and drugs are frequently used are at risk for behavioral problems later in life, but our findings demonstrate that these effects are immediate,” researcher Candice Odgers of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy noted in a news release.
The findings are published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.
“We tried to use tools from adolescents’ worlds to capture their experiences, emotions and behavior in real time,” said researcher Michael Russell. “Connecting with kids via their devices provided a unique view into their daily lives and, we hope, more valid data as we were capturing events, experiences and behaviors as they happened.”