A study of middle school students in Warsaw, Poland examined both the risk factors and promotive factors associated with adolescent substance abuse. The survey questionnaire and items were based on those used for Flint Adolescent Study.
Researchers found that Polish adolescents were less likely to use alcohol and cigarettes if they had strong maternal support, while friends’ and non-parental use and acceptance of alcohol or cigarettes increased the probability of adolescent substance abuse.
Promotive factors are positive influences, resources, or circumstances that help youth develop healthily despite exposure to risk factors. Promotive factors are a key component of resiliency theory, which works to understand why some youth develop normally despite being exposed to risk factors that often have negative health and social consequences.
The study, which was a collaboration between researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the Department of Public Health at the Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology in Warsaw, investigated risk and promotive factors by analyzing the survey responses of 3089 Warsaw middle school students.
Students were asked how supportive their mothers were, how their neighbors would react to their misbehavior, whether or not they had a mentor, how accepting their friends were of substance use, and what portion of the adults they knew drank. The researchers focused on maternal, rather than parental support because traditionally and still today, Polish mothers tend to have more positive involvement in their children’s lives than Polish fathers.
Substance abuse is a significant issue for adolescents in Poland. Poland transitioned from a socialist to capitalist economy several decades ago. One side-effect of this political shift was that cigarettes and alcohol became more readily available, and adolescent substance abuse rose. While this change impacted the alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking of Poland as a whole, youth were particularly affected.
The researchers found that friends’ acceptance of substance use and substance use by non-parental adults increase the risk of both adolescent cigarette and alcohol use. They also discovered that students are less likely to report cigarette usage if they receive high levels of maternal support. Maternal support also decreases the risk of alcohol use, even when youth report that their friends think substance use is cool. Neighbor’s informal social control also reduced the probability of alcohol or cigarette use.
The study identified ways to minimize the impact of risk factors on adolescent substance abuse. The findings can help guide interventions and strategies not only in Poland, but also in other communities with a similar drug/alcohol problem among youth.