This survey is the first to look at whether family structure has an influence on substance abuse. Researchers found the most important factor is not just the presence of fathers but how connected they are to their children, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.
"Too many dads in America are AWOL as far as their kids are concerned...and that greatly increases risk that their kids will use substances...drink, smoke and use illegal drugs," says Joseph Califano of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
Teens in two parent families who have only a fair or poor relationship with their father were found sixty-eight percent more likely to drink, smoke or use drugs than those with two supportive parents. In fact a poor relationship was worse than none at all. Teens raised by a single mother had only a thirty- percent higher tendency to substance abuse, according to the report.
The survey found a much higher risk for teens who don't feel they can talk to their fathers, and that a lot of teens say their dads aren't very involved in their lives.
In the survey of 1,000 parents and 2,000 youths aged 12 to 17, more than twice as many teens said they found it easier to talk to their mothers than their fathers about drugs. More than 70 percent said they had very good or excellent relationships with their mothers, but only 58 percent said they got along as well with their fathers.
Mothers influence their children's important decisions three times as often as fathers and are more likely to have private talks about drugs, the study found.
Speaking to children about drugs should start early because "the opportunity for parents to impact their teen's thinking about illegal drugs diminishes as the teen gets older," the survey's authors said. They found that 34 percent of 12-year-olds reported excellent relationships with their parents, but that number plummeted to just 14 percent by the time the children turned 17.
"Parent power may be the greatest underutilized resource in our nation's battle to give our children the will and skills to say no to drugs," said Califano.
The father factor is important, advocates say, because of their position as role models and rule setters.
"Those fathers who not only set rules and enforce them, but also have a good loving relationship with their children are the most effective in setting rules and ensuring that their kids follow them," says Wade Horn, President of the National Fatherhood Initiative.
Confirming recent studies that overall youth substance abuse has leveled off, the survey found that 40 percent of teens said the drug situation at school is getting worse, down from 55 percent in 1998 And more teens, 60 percent, said they don't expect to use a drug in the future, an increase of 9 percentage points since 1998.
Parents were more pessimistic, with 45 percent thinking their children will someday use drugs.
Califano said this "parental resignation often reflects their own drug-using behavior" and that 58 percent of those parents who had tried marijuana themselves thought their kids would do the same.