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Higher Rates of Adolescent Substance Use in Child Welfare Versus Community Populations in the United States

Danielle L. Fettes, Gregory A. Aarons, Amy E. Green

Objective: Youth substance use exacts costly consequences for a variety of important health outcomes. We examined and compared prevalence rates and a common set of psychosocial factors of lifetime and current substance use among child welfare-involved youths and community youths from two nationally representative data sets. Method: Using the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we compared prevalence rates and conducted logistic regression models for eight binary outcome measures of substance use: lifetime and current use of alcohol, inhalant, marijuana, and other illicit drugs to examine predictors of substance involvement in the two samples. Results: Substance use prevalence was higher among child welfare-involved youths than community youths for lifetime marijuana use, lifetime and current inhalant use, and lifetime and current other illicit drug use. Among both child welfare-involved and community youths, delinquency was the factor most strongly associated with all lifetime substance use outcomes. Notably, family structure and parental closeness were important protective factors against current substance use among child welfare-involved youths. For community youths, poorer emotional health was the strongest indicator of current substance use. Conclusions: Substance use among all adolescents is a critical public health concern. Given the heightened vulnerability of child welfare-involved youths, it is particularly important to focus prevention and early intervention efforts on this population. Further research should explore additional factors associated with substance use among these youths so that child welfare and behavioral health systems may jointly target prevention and intervention efforts. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 74, 825834, 2013)