Could losing a parent lead to bad behavior in teens? A new study found that kids with an absent parent are more likely to smoke and drink. Here's how to minimize the risk.
Closeup of teenage girl holding cigarette
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Divorce, separation, or the death of a parent hits kids hard–and it may be linked to an increase in risky behaviors, like smoking and drinking alcohol.

That's according to new findings published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, drawing on data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, an ongoing research project examining the health data of nearly 11,000 kids born between 2000 and 2002. The survey asked 11-year-olds if they'd smoked or drank alcohol—and found that kids who had lost a parent to death or divorce before the age of 7 were nearly twice as likely to have tried cigarettes or alcohol.

"People may take up risky health behaviors as a coping strategy or as a form of self-medication, to help them cope with stressful situations," said Rebecca Lacey, an author of the study and a senior research associate at University College London, according to CNN. Researchers also point to a potential decrease in parental supervision or a lack of healthier coping mechanisms as reasons behind the riskier behavior.

So what can you do if your child's lost a parent? Experts suggest making sure that your child gets mental health care to help him or her work through feelings about the loss, and look for other role models in their lives—adult family members and close friends can be positive influences on your child's life. And finally, make sure that you get the care and help you need to be an effective parent.