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Family Conflict Leads to Aggression and Drug Abuse for Boys

Update Date: Jul 16, 2013 02:41 PM EDT

A family is supposed to be a safe group of people where one can turn to for support. Unfortunately for some, the image of a perfect family is fair from real. Studies have found that children from families where domestic violence and abuse are prevalent are more prone to high-risk behaviors, such as using illegal drugs. Other studies have looked into the effects of sibling conflict, such as bullying and found similar results as well. However, not many studies have tied the two variables together until now. In a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois, researchers found that family conflict, which includes domestic abuse and sibling aggression, leads to increased violence and drug abuse in boys.

"There's been a growing consensus that family violence is a training ground for peer aggression and associated risk behaviors such as substance abuse," said lead researcher, Dorothy Espelage, who is an educational psychologist in the College of Education according to Medical Xpress. Espelage is also a bullying and school violence expert. "However, awareness of the impact of sibling aggression on bullying has lagged behind other types of family violence. It is imperative that researchers investigating the family context of bullying and substance abuse examine not only violence involving parents but also that involving siblings."

In this study, the researchers looked at four different middle schools located in the Midwest. Over 1,200 students were administered questionnaires that aimed to measure levels of substance abuse, fighting and bullying perpetration. The questionnaires also looked into the types and frequency of home conflict, which include teasing, arguing and physical aggression.

The researchers found that for boys in the family, family conflict in general led to more aggressive behaviors and drug abuse. For girls in the family, however, there were higher levels of drug abuse, but the researchers could not conclude that it was due to family conflict. The researchers believe that females tend to be more internal with these emotions and could potentially be at risk of depression and anxiety. Based from these findings, the researchers suggest that children who are high risk for these behaviors might need more assistance before they get involved with others.

"Bullying and fighting could be manifestations of individual antisocial tendencies that are precursors to the onset of alcohol and drug use among boys," Espelage said. "And it's also possible that both aggression and substance use spring from affiliating with aggressive peer groups that are also engaging in other deviant behaviors, such as substance abuse."

The study was published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence

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