The Effectiveness of Substance Abuse Treatment with Young Offenders

2. Antecedents and Consequences of Substance Abuse

2. Antecedents and Consequences of Substance Abuse

Strong linkages between substance abuse and delinquent activity have been documented in the young offender literature (Dawkins, 1997; Donovan & Jessor, 1985; Farabee et al., 2001; Fergusson, Lynskey, & Horwood, 1996; Huizinga & Jakob-Chien, 1998; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Pickrel & Henggeler, 1996; Watts & Wright, 1990), with similar findings reported in the adult literature (Andrews & Bonta, 1998; McVie, 2001; Pelissier & Gaes, 2001; Weekes, Moser, & Langevin, 1998). Past research has demonstrated that there is also a clear link between alcohol or drug abuse and violent crime (Fergusson et al., 1996; Watts & Wright, 1990), including homicide (Yu & Williford, 1994). This latter trend is consistent with findings from studiesof non-delinquent populations where increased alcohol consumption has been associated with more aggressive behaviour (Bushman & Cooper, 1990; Gustafson, 1993; Taylor & Chermack, 1993).

Watts and Wright (1990) provided several compelling explanations that may account for the strong relationship between substance abuse and criminal behaviour for young offenders. First, the use and abuse of substances may be seen by the young offender as an integral part of the "tough guy" image required for acceptance within their peer group, which is predominantly antisocial. Second, the adolescent may engage in excessive substance use in order to obtain greater parental attention or, conversely, to act defiantly towards parental authority. In addition, and as has been suggested elsewhere, abusing substances provides an escape from the real world. Their final, and more biologically-based explanation, argues that young offenders suffer from a chronic state of under-arousal and so turn to substance abuse as a means to enhance stimulation, a tenet related to the disease model of alcoholism.

The relationship between alcohol/drug abuse and delinquent activity has been maintained across various demographic categories, including racial-ethnic minorities such as Mexican-American and Black youth (Dawkins & Dawkins, 1983; Farrell, Danish, & Howard, 1992; Watts & Wright, 1990). In terms of gender, this relationship has also been observed within both male and female adolescents (Farrell et al., 1992; Fergusson et al., 1996).

The impact of substance abuse on the lives of adolescents is not solely restricted to delinquent behaviour, which has led criminal justice agencies to dedicate enormous fiscal and human resources to this important issue (Crowe, 1998). Substance abuse has been linked to poor school performance, physical and mental health problems, problematic peer involvement and poor family relations (Crowe, 1998; Farrell et al., 1992; Fergusson et al., 1996; Gilvarry, 2000). The cross-cultural application of these relationships can be seen in a recent study which found that the most prominent self-reported risk factors for problematic drug use in a sample of British young offenders were family disruption, low educational achievement, associating with delinquent peer groups, having a very early age of onset of drug use (Newburn, 1999). Based on this plethora of evidence, Huizinga and Jakob-Chien (1998) emphatically asserted that the support for the co-occurrence of substance abuse with various problem behaviours, including delinquency, is irrefutable.

There is also emerging evidence that certain types of psychopathology occur more frequently in substance-abusing as opposed to nonsubstance-abusing juvenile delinquents. For example, Milin, Halikas, Meller and Morse (1994) found significantly higher levels of Attention Deficit Disorder and the aggressive subtype of conduct disorder in a sample of adolescent offenders. Furthermore, substance abuse disorders have been found to more commonly co-occur with mood disorders, including major depression (Hovens, Cantwell, & Kiriakos, 1994; Rohde, Lewinsohn, & Seeley, 1996). Finally, a Canadian study revealed elevated levels of psychopathy (a personality disorder characterized by lack of empathy, egocentrism, and impulsivity) in young offenders who were more serious substance abusers (Mailloux, Forth, & Kroner, 1997).

Given these negative relationships between substance abuse and a series of other outcomes, researchers have been concerned with identifying whether substance use/abuse and delinquency are causally related (e.g., involvement in substance abuse causes the youth to become engaged in criminal activity) or whether these variables share a common developmental pathway (e.g., the factors that put an individual at risk for abusing substances would also place him/her at risk of delinquent behaviour). Regardless of the exact nature of the relationship, the high co-occurrence of these behaviours necessitates that substance abuse be considered a high priority when developing a treatment protocol for young offenders (Watts & Wright, 1990).

2.1 Moderating variables

Although there is a clear relationship between substance abuse and delinquency, previous research has also found that certain factors may either strengthen or weaken the observed magnitude, and even direction, of this relationship. For example, although church attendance does not affect substance abuse in adolescents (Farrell et al., 1992), parental alcohol involvement has a negative influence (Yu & Williford, 1994) as well as increases their risk for recidivism (Dowden & Brown, 2002).

Perhaps the most influential variable affecting the substance abuse - delinquency relationship is age of onset, with several studies documenting that earlier involvement in substance abuse is associated with increased criminal activity (Fergusson & Horwood, 1997; Fleming, Kellam, & Brown, 1982; Newcomb & Bentler, 1988; Robins & Pryzbeck, 1985; Van Kammen, Loeber, & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1991; Yu & Williford, 1994). Evidence from a study exploring a large sample of Canadian federal male offenders reported that offenders who had used alcohol or drugs at an earlier age were convicted of a criminal offence at a significantly younger age than offenders who became involved in substance abuse later in their lives. Furthermore, these earlier abusers were also much more likely to have developed a substance abuse problem as an adult (Vanderburg, Weekes, & Wilson, 1995). The strength of this relationship is further enhanced when offenders become engaged in substance use/abuse during their formative years (birth to six years), a result that has been found in both Canadian (Vanderburg et al., 1995) and American studies (Van Kammen et al., 1991).

Another variable that may moderate the relationship between substance use and criminal behaviour for young offenders is the type of subsequent offending behaviour (Dawkins, 1997; Loeber, 1988; Yu & Williford, 1994). For example, Watts and Wright (1990) found that the best predictor of violent delinquency in their sample of young offenders was frequent use of illegal drugs other than marijuana. Other researchers have noted that although there is a strong relationship between substance abuse and juvenile delinquency for some adolescents, this relationship does not exist for others (Fagan, Weis, Chang, & Watters, 1987; White, 1991). Methodological Considerations.

The vast majority of research conducted on the co-occurrence of substance abuse and criminal behaviour in young offender populations has employed self-report measures. Although some concern has been raised about the reliability of this form of assessment, several researchers have demonstrated that adolescents accurately report their involvement in both delinquent (Hindelang, Hirschi, & Weis, 1981; Huizinga & Elliott, 1981) and substance using activities (Rouse, Kozel, & Richards, 1985; Single, Kandle, & Johnson, 1975). One of the primary advantages of self-report measures is that they provide a more sensitive and complete measure of the behaviours of interest than official criminal justice records because certain delinquent or otherwise antisocial acts may go officially unnoticed (Elliott, Huizinga, & Menard, 1989).

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