Literature Review on the relationship of substance use and delinquent behavior

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Literature Review on the relationship of substance use and delinquent behavior

October 7, 2007

For years, researchers and criminologist have been studying the reasons why juveniles commit delinquent acts and what factors have led to those delinquent acts. Although there are many different factors for why youth could possibly commit crimes, a major dynamic that has been studied is substance use. Many researchers have looked at not only how substance use, such as alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs, among youth but also other factors that could possible predict juvenile delinquent behaviors. This paper will review research that has been conducted on these issues. Mainly focusing on the two main threads apparent in the review literature which were the types of substances being used by juveniles and how that is related to criminal activity and also other predictors of why juveniles could possible commit crime.

When researchers look at drug use and the effects it has on behavior, one of their focuses is on drug use related to criminal offenses.  Research was done focusing on co-occurring problems of mental health and substance abuse look at 155 youth from two detention centers. The results found that 141 had used marijuana prior to incarceration, 146 had used alcohol, 91 had used hallucinogens, 64 had used cocaine and 19 had used some type of inhalant (Potter & Jenson, 2003). That research done by Potter and Jenson (2003) also found that of the most prevalent drugs used, marijuana and alcohol, the average age of initial use was approximately 12 years old (Potter & Jenson, 2003). These results were also related to some found in a previous research.

Research was done in 1999 that looked at the relationship of, specifically, inhalant use and delinquent behavior in youth. The research also took the findings of inhalant users and compared those findings to other drug users. The other drugs that were looked at other than inhalants were cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol, designer drugs, marijuana, crack, cocaine, LSD/mushrooms, hallucinogens, PCP, and uppers/downers (Mackesy-Amiti & Fendrich, 1999). The research found that the “number of substances ever used was significantly positively associated with trouble behavior” (Mackesy-Amiti & Fendrich, 1999, pp. 561).   Trouble behavior was defined as missing school due to being drunk or on drugs, being suspended from school and getting in trouble at home from drinking or drugs (Mackesy-Amiti & Fendrich, 1999). The research also found that those who experimented with inhalants engaged in more trouble behaviors then those who experimented with other drugs and those who considered themselves actual inhalant users experienced more trouble behavior than those who reported themselves as actual drug users. Also, one very important fact that was found in this research was that the quantity of drugs used was positively correlated with minor criminal activity which was defined using only two variables, having stolen something or vandalized property (Mackesy-Amiti & Fendrich, 1999).  This research main focused on the effects on inhalant use but other research has focused on other particular drugs.

The focal point of the proceeding research on marijuana gave more information on the particular effect of marijuana. Specifically, research was done looking at the effects of early marijuana use on late adolescent behavior (Brook, Balka, & Whiteman, 1999).  The research found that overall; the early use of marijuana improved the threat of delinquent behavior. The research also found that early use of marijuana increased the likelihood of being addicted to cigarettes, having serious alcohol problems and frequent marijuana use. It also increased the odds of having delinquent peers. These researchers focused on marijuana use in general but other research has been done to look at the frequency of use.

The research done examining frequency looked at not only marijuana, but also alcohol and heroin. This research was done by Marvin P. Dawkins (1997), and related the frequency of drug use to the type of offenses that adolescents were committing.  The research found that alcohol compared to marijuana and heroin, was more positively related to criminal offenses with emphasis on violence and serious property crimes (Dawkins, 1997). One important finding of this research was that overall marijuana use seemed to be the most common factor in gang-related violence (Dawkins, 1997). Out of 21 offenses examined, 6 offenses including general trouble with police, alcohol abuse, gang fights, stealing car parts, extortion, and petty theft were all strongly predicted by substance use of alcohol, marijuana and heroin (Dawkins, 1997).  This research, as well as other research, examined other aspects of the drug use and delinquency relationship.

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A common thread among the reviewed literature was research that looked at other factors that could possible explain juvenile delinquency. From the research of Dawkins (1997), he also looked at the possibility of criminal history and race as being predictors of adolescent criminal behavior. As mentioned before, the researchers looked at 21 offenses and examined of the three predictors being studied which one was the strongest predictor of that particular offense. Out of those 21 offenses, 12 of them including stealing from a store,  stealing something less than fifty dollars, trespassing, causing a serious injury, grand theft auto, using a ...

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