Childhood poverty, catecholamines, and substance use among African American young adults: The protective effect of supportive parenting

Allen W. Barton, Tianyi Yu, Gene H. Brody, Katherine B. Ehrlich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


From a sample of African American families living in the rural South, this study tested the hypothesis that growing up in poverty is associated with heightened biological stress levels in youth that, in turn, forecast elevations in drug use in young adulthood. Supportive parenting during adolescence was hypothesized to protect youth's biological stress levels from rising in the context of poverty. African American youth and their primary caregivers from 385 families participated in a 14-year prospective study that began when youth were 11 years of age. Data were collected from 2001 to 2016. All families lived in impoverished communities in the rural South. Linear regression models and conditional indirect effect analyses were executed in 2016 to test the study hypotheses. High number of years living in poverty across adolescence was associated with high catecholamine levels, but only among those youth who received low levels of supportive parenting. Youth catecholamine levels at age 19 forecast an increase in substance use from age 19 to age 25. Conditional indirect effects confirmed a developmental cascade linking family poverty, youth catecholamine levels, and increases in substance use for youth who did not receive high levels of supportive parenting. Current results suggest that, for some African American youth, substance use vulnerability may develop “under the skin” from stress-related biological weathering years before elevated drug use. Receipt of supportive parenting, however, can protect rural African American youth from biological weathering and its subsequent effects on increases in substance use during adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-5
Number of pages5
JournalPreventive Medicine
StatePublished - Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • African Americans
  • Catecholamines
  • Parenting
  • Physiological
  • Poverty
  • Stress
  • Substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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