Drug Abuse and Related Health Disparities: An Intergenerational Longitudinal Study of Offspring of Delinquent Youth (Northwestern Offspring Project)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Every year in the United States, more than 900,000 juveniles are arrested and approximately 250,000 court cases result in incarceration. Racial/ethnic minority youth and adults are disproportionately incarcerated, especially for drug crimes. To address health disparities, we are currently conducting the Northwestern Juvenile Project (NJP), a 16-year longitudinal study of health outcomes of youth after detention. Substance use disorders (SUDs) were the most common psychiatric disorders at detention (affecting about one-half of males and females), the most common comorbid disorder, and the most persistent disorder, affecting 1 in 5 participants in young adulthood. Many delinquent youth become parents when young; their offspring are at great risk for SUDs and related problem behaviors. The proposed investigation, the Northwestern Offspring Project, will be the first large-scale prospective study of the intergenerational transmission of SUDs in the children of delinquent youth. The Northwestern Offspring Project addresses the limitations of prior intergenerational studies, many of which were conducted overseas and therefore unable to address health disparities in the United States. We propose to study n=428 offspring (ages 12-15 years), their parents, n=428, and an additional primary caregiver, estimated n=261. We chose ages 12-15 years because it is a critical developmental period for substance abuse. Leveraging prospective data that have already been collected on parents (up to 14 interviews), there are 3 aims: (1) intergenerational transmission of substance use, SUDs, and related problem behaviors in offspring; (2) mechanisms of intergenerational transmission, focusing on the exposure of the child to the parents’/caregivers’ substance abuse and to the collateral consequences of the parents’/caregivers’ incarcerations; and (3) predicting resilience, examining the protective effect of a supportive and prosocial environment. The proposed study is innovative by: (1) focusing on disorder, not only substance use; (2) assessing 10 subcategories of drugs: marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogen/PCP, opioid, amphetamine, inhalant, sedative, unspecified drug, alcohol, and tobacco; (3) including enough parents with drug use disorders during their own adolescence to study intergenerational transmission; (4) including a large number of African Americans and Hispanics, who face the most severe consequences of drug abuse; and (5) examining key risk factors—such as the parents’ incarcerations—that have not been explored in prior studies. The proposed study responds to (1) the National Academy of Medicine’s call for translational research to address the social determinants of health disparities; (2) the NIMHD Strategic Plan, which requests studies to address disparities in the causal factors of substance abuse; (3) the NIAAA Health Disparities Strategic Plan to build a knowledge base for populations that have received less attention in prior studies on alcohol abuse; and (3) the NIDA 2016-2020 Strategic Plan to identify environmental, behavioral, and social causes and consequences of addiction and determine mechanisms that underlie individual risk and resilience for addiction.
Effective start/end date9/1/185/31/23


  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (5R01DA042082-05)


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