Understanding caregiver acceptance of screening for family substance use in pediatric clinics serving economically disadvantaged children.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Substance abuse : official publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse


washington; seattle; swedish


Children of parents with substance use disorders are at greater risk for mental and physical health co-morbidities. Despite guidelines, pediatricians rarely screen for substance use in the family/household, citing fear of offending parents. The objectives of this study were to examine (1) caregiver acceptance of pediatricians screening for family/household substance use during well-child visits, (2) prevalence of family/household substance use, and (3) the association between family/household substance use and trust in their child's pediatrician. Methods: This cross-sectional study surveyed adult caregivers presenting a child for medical care at two urban pediatric outpatient clinics using a brief anonymous computer-based survey. The primary outcome measured the acceptability of pediatrician screening for family/household substance use. Substance use and concerns about use in the family/household were also assessed. Results: Adult caregivers (n = 271) surveyed were mean age 35 years, 73% mothers, 90% African American, and 85% on Medicaid. Over half (51%) of caregivers reported substance use by someone in the family/household, most commonly cigarettes (38%), followed by alcohol (19%) and marijuana (10%). Sixty-one percent of caregivers who reported family substance use expressed concern about the use of this substance. The majority (87%) agreed it is appropriate for pediatricians to ask caregivers about family/household substance use. No differences were found between caregivers who did and did not report substance use in their family/household. Caregivers with concerning substance use in their family/household were less likely to trust their pediatrician [OR = 0.21, 95%CI: 0.05, 0.85] Conclusions: Caregivers endorsed acceptance of universal screening for substance use, including illicit substances, and substance use disorders in the family/household during well-child visits. Pediatricians are trusted professionals with expertise in communicating with parents to maximize the health of their patients; assessing family history of substance use and substance use disorders is a natural extension of their role.

Clinical Institute

Mental Health

Clinical Institute

Women & Children


Behavioral Health


Family Medicine