From the founding of National Families in Action during the height of the War on Drugs to Joseph A. Califano’s book, How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid, parents and communities have been touted as the keys to preventing alcohol and other drug problems among youth, and research now shows that environmental and genetic risk factors can be trumped by parental engagement during the critical adolescent years, according to Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
"Parents are incredibly important in raising drug-free kids, but in many instances they are not there or are not involved" — absences that can have measurable effects on brain development as well as other aspects of growing up — said Volkow. For example, studies of orphans have demonstrated that the brains of children who lack connections to parents actually mature more slowly, raising the risk of drug use and other impulsive behaviors.
Half of all vulnerability to addiction can be traced to an individual’s genetic background, but that hardly means that a child’s fate is sealed if they have a family history of addiction. Rather, Volkow said that addiction is, in many ways, a developmental disorder that is intimately linked to the maturation of the brain from childhood through adolescence and into early adulthood.