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Open Access Research article

Family structure, parent-child conversation time and substance use among Chinese adolescents

Kwok-Kei Mak1, Sai-Yin Ho1*, G Neil Thomas2, C Mary Schooling1, Sarah M McGhee1 and Tai-Hing Lam1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

2 Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, The UK

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:503  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-503

Published: 19 August 2010



The family plays a vital role in shaping adolescent behaviours. The present study investigated the associations between family structure and substance use among Hong Kong Chinese adolescents.


A total of 32,961 Form 1 to 5 (grade 7-12 in the US) Hong Kong students participated in the Youth Smoking Survey in 2003-4. An anonymous questionnaire was used to obtain information about family structure, daily duration of parent-child conversation, smoking, alcohol drinking and drug use. Logistic regression was used to calculate the adjusted odds ratios (OR) for each substance use by family structure.


Adjusting for sex, age, type of housing, parental smoking and school, adolescents from non-intact families were significantly more likely to be current smokers (OR = 1.62), weekly drinkers (OR = 1.72) and ever drug users (OR = 1.72), with significant linear increases in ORs from maternal, paternal to no-parent families compared with intact families. Furthermore, current smoking (OR = 1.41) and weekly drinking (OR = 1.46) were significantly more common among adolescents from paternal than maternal families. After adjusting for parent-child conversation time, the ORs for non-intact families remained significant compared with intact families, but the paternal-maternal differences were no longer significant.


Non-intact families were associated with substance use among Hong Kong Chinese adolescents. The apparently stronger associations with substance use in paternal than maternal families were probably mediated by the poorer communication with the father.