Newswise — Previous research showed that the combination of two risk factors – parental separation/ divorce and family history of alcoholism (FH+) – can have negative effects on offspring, including an earlier onset of substance use among adolescents and young adults, lower educational attainment in adulthood, and a greater risk of alcohol dependence. This study looked at the impact of parental divorce and FH+ on offspring’s alcohol problems, marijuana use, and interpersonal relationships with parents.

Researchers examined data from 706 young adults (374 women, 332 men) that were collected as part of a larger study that focused on risk factors and adolescent substance use. For this study, the average age of the young-adult participants was about 33 years. Parental divorce results were based on parents’ reports. Young-adult outcomes were collected via computer-based individual interviews. A history of alcohol use disorders among parents was based on responses from mothers, fathers, and young adults.

Parental divorce significantly predicted marijuana use but not alcohol problems. Maternal, but not paternal, alcoholism also significantly predicted marijuana use. Paternal alcoholism was associated with higher levels of alcohol problems among sons than daughters. There was also a significant two-way interaction between divorce status and maternal alcoholism, indicating that young adults who experienced both had the highest levels of marijuana use. Interpersonal relationships with parents were moderated by gender: among participants with divorced parents, daughters reported higher levels of conflict with fathers than sons, and sons reported lower levels of maternal support than daughters. In summary, parental divorce and FH+ had persistent influences on young adult offspring’s substance use and their interpersonal relationships with parents. These findings can help to inform future research on the impact of these two risk factors on the progression from the initiation of alcohol and marijuana use to dependence on these substances.