Heterogeneity in Effects of Parent–Child Separation on Young–Adult Substance Use Disorder

Austin J. Blake, Daniel McNeish, Laurie Chassin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A large body of literature suggests that parent–child separation predicts child maladjustment. However, further advancement in methodology is needed to account for heterogeneity in types of separation. Additionally, given a lack of research examining different types of separation as predictors of offspring substance use, further research into this topic is warranted. The present study tested the relation between parent–child separation and young–adult substance use disorder (SUD), capturing heterogeneity in these effects based on group differences and measurement of separation. In a sample of 427 young adults from a larger longitudinal study oversampled for parental alcohol use disorder (AUD), effects of number and type of separations on SUD diagnosis were tested. Further, we explored whether these associations were moderated by gender, ethnicity, or parental AUD. Two underlying types of separation were found: parental health-related separation (i.e., parental death, hospitalization) and nonhealth-related separation (i.e., divorce, arrest). A higher sum of separations and greater nonhealth-related separation predicted higher odds of SUD. Greater health-related separation predicted lower odds of SUD. However, these effects were qualified by interactions with ethnicity and parental AUD. Although the vast majority of studies measure cumulative parent–child separation with sum scores, the present study demonstrates that measuring underlying “types” of cumulative separation also reveals important effects. Moreover, childhood separation is a significant risk factor for SUD. Future research on separation should implement methods to capture separation types and further account for potential effects of selection into separation types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-169
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • Parent–child separation
  • Principal component analysis
  • Substance use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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