Article Text

Parental absence in early childhood and onset of smoking and alcohol consumption before adolescence
  1. Rebecca E Lacey,
  2. Afshin Zilanawala,
  3. Elizabeth Webb,
  4. Jessica Abell,
  5. Steven Bell
  1. Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Afshin Zilanawala, Research Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, University College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK; afshin.zilanawala{at}


Background Parental absence, due to death or separation from a parent, has been associated with smoking and alcohol consumption in adolescence and adulthood. The aim of this study was to investigate whether parental absence in early childhood was associated with smoking and alcohol uptake before adolescence.

Methods Data on 10 940 children from the UK's Millennium Cohort Study were used. Logistic regression was used to test associations between parental absence (0–7 years) and reports of smoking and alcohol consumption at age 11.

Results Children who experienced parental absence were more likely to have smoked (OR=2.58, 95% CI 1.88 to 3.56) and consumed alcohol (OR=1.46, 95% CI 1.25 to 1.72). No differences were found by child sex or age, or parent absent. Children who experienced parental death were less likely to have drunk alcohol but those who had were more likely to have consumed enough to feel drunk.

Conclusions Parental absence was associated with early uptake of risky health behaviours in a large, nationally representative UK cohort. Children who experience parental absence should be supported in early life in order to prevent smoking and alcohol initiation.

  • alcohol
  • child adversity
  • millennium cohort study
  • smoking

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