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Keywords:

  • Adolescents;
  • Parental Ratings;
  • Substance Abuse or Dependence;
  • Alcohol;
  • Marijuana

Background: Previous studies have shown that when assessing child psychopathology, parents tend to report more symptoms than children for externalizing disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), whereas children tend to report more symptoms for internalizing disorders such as major depression. Whether for clinical or research purposes, parents are also frequently asked to report on their children's experiences with alcohol and drugs. The purpose of this study was to analyze correspondence between adolescent and parent reports of adolescent substance use and abuse or dependence.

Methods: In the current study, 591 subjects 12 to 17 years old were interviewed using the child version of the Semi-Structured Assessment for the Genetics of Alcoholism (C-SSAGA) as part of the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA). One parent was also interviewed about each adolescent using the parent version of the C-SSAGA. Sensitivities, specificities, and κ coefficients were calculated to assess parental agreement with adolescent reports of lifetime substance use and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—Third Revision substance abuse or dependence.

Results: The results indicate that parents are somewhat knowledgeable about their children's use of substances, particularly those that are used most commonly. For example, 55% of adolescents who had smoked cigarettes, 50% who had used alcohol, and 47% who had used marijuana had a parent who knew that they used. However, parents were less aware of substance-related problems experienced by their offspring, agreeing with adolescent reports only 27% of the time for diagnoses of alcohol abuse or dependence and 26% of the time for diagnoses of marijuana abuse or dependence. Parent reports added few cases of substance use for 12- to 13 year-olds and essentially no cases for 16- to 17-year-olds. Parent reports added a nominal number of diagnoses of substance abuse or dependence for older adolescents.

Conclusions: Whether for clinical or research purposes, the results emphasize the importance of directly assessing adolescents regarding alcohol and other substance use disorders. Furthermore, investigators should consider the specific disorder(s) being investigated and the ages of the children being studied when determining whether to include parent reports as part of study design.