Drug Use

The results of the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency support the robust relationship between drug use and serious delinquent behavior established by other researchers over the past 25 years, although previous findings vary in the extent of overlap and strength of the relationship by age, drug, and temporal period or decade examined. (Relevant references can be found in Huizinga, Loeber, and Thornberry, 1997, and changes in the drugs-delinquency relationship over time are described in Huizinga, 1997.)

The Denver, Pittsburgh, and Rochester studies all found a statistically significant relationship between persistent delinquency and persistent drug use for both males and females (across all three sites for males and at the two sites where females were studied) (see table 2). However, a majority of persistent serious delinquents were not persistent drug users, and more than 50 percent of drug-using males and about 20 percent of drug-using females were persistent serious delinquents.

Table 2

The data from the three studies indicated that 38 percent of serious male delinquents were also drug users. In Denver and Rochester, slightly more than half of drug users were serious delinquents, and in Pittsburgh, 70 percent of drug users were serious delinquents. Thus, for males, the majority of persistent serious delinquents were not drug users, but the majority of drug users were serious delinquents.

For females, the opposite was true. Slightly less than half of serious delinquents in Rochester and Denver were drug users, while only 20 percent of drug users were serious delinquents. Among females, therefore, delinquency is a stronger indicator of drug use than drug use is an indicator of delinquency.

Although the relationship between serious delinquency and drug use is statistically significant for females (at the two sites where females were studied) and for males across all three sites, a number of caveats about this relationship are necessary. First, the level of the relationship varies by site and gender. Second, even though the relationship is robust, it cannot be assumed that most delinquents are serious drug users. In fact, for both genders, the majority of serious delinquents were not drug users. Neither can it be assumed that most drug users are serious delinquents. This relationship varies by gender. Among females, for example, most drug users were not serious delinquents. However, among males, a majority of drug users were serious delinquents (70 percent in Pittsburgh). Third, the causal nature of the relationship is not clear. It has been argued that drugs cause crime, that crime leads to drug use, that the relationship is spurious (that is, crime and drug use are related only because they are both dependent on other factors), and that it is reciprocal (that is, crime leads to drug use and drug use also leads to crime). However, it is possible that each of these can be true, depending on the population, subgroup, or individual examined.

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Co-occurrence of Delinquency and Other Problem Behaviors Juvenile Justice Bulletin November 2000