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Am J Public Health. 1997 March; 87(3): 359–364.
PMCID: PMC1381005

The early use of alcohol and tobacco: its relation to children's competence and parents' behavior.


OBJECTIVES: Use of tobacco and alcohol during childhood predicts heavy use of these substances and use of illicit drugs during adolescence. This study aims to identify developmental correlates of tobacco and alcohol use among elementary-school children. METHODS: Cross-sectional surveys were used to measure tobacco and alcohol use, multiple indicators of child competence, parenting behaviors, and parental modeling of tobacco and alcohol use in a sample of 1470 third- and fifth-grade children. Both self-report and teacher-rated assessments were obtained, which allowed collateral testing of study hypotheses. RESULTS: Children's tobacco and alcohol use was strongly related to low scores on several measures of child competence, both self-reported and teacher rated. Children's tobacco and alcohol use was also associated with less effective parenting behaviors and with parental use of tobacco and alcohol. CONCLUSIONS: Children's early experience with tobacco and alcohol is associated with weak competence development and exposure to socialization factors that promote risk taking. Interventions to prevent early use of tobacco and alcohol are needed.

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