Juvenile Delinquency and Substance Abuse
Adolescent Substance Abuse
When young people engage in alcohol and other drug use, they, their families, and their communities usually suffer. In some cases, because of the strong association between substance abuse and delinquency, an increased burden is also placed on the juvenile justice system.
Since 1992, the high rate of illicit drug use among youth has been steadily increasing.
- According to the Monitoring the Future study (previously called the High School Senior Survey), which has measured the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs by the Nation's youth since 1975, drug use among 12th graders peaked in 1981, with slightly more than 65 percent of seniors having reported past use of an illicit drug. This figure dropped to a low of 40.7 percent by 1992. In 1993, however, this downward trend began to reverse. By 1996, 50.8 percent of high school seniors reported having used illicit drugs (Monitoring the Future Study, University of Michigan, 1996).
- Young people are using mood-altering substances at increasingly younger ages. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (Gfroerer, 1996) shows an overall decline in the average age of first use of alcohol, from 17.2 years in 1975 to 15.9 years in 1993; daily cigarette use, from 18.6 years in 1975 to 16.8 years in 1994; and, especially, marijuana use, from 18.9 years in 1975 to 16.3 years in 1994.
- Studies of drug use among youth involved in the juvenile justice system indicate high levels of abuse. Since 1990, the Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) program conducted by the National Institute of Justice has measured substance abuse among male detainees/arrestees in 12 jurisdictions across the country. Like the data from the Monitoring the Future study, the DUF data show increases in illicit drug use by youth in nearly all sites between 1993 and 1995. In 1995, youth testing positive for at least one drug ranged from 19 percent in Portland, OR, to 58 percent in Washington, D.C. DUF data, which do not include information on alcohol use by juveniles, showed in 1995 that the illicit drug most frequently used by delinquent youth was marijuana (National Institute of Justice, 1994 and 1995).
Consequences of Adolescent Substance Abuse
Persistent substance abuse among youth is often accompanied by an array of problems, including academic difficulties, health-related consequences, poor peer relationships, mental health issues, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. There are also significant consequences for family members, the community, and society in general.
- Declining grades, absenteeism from school and other activities, increased potential for dropping out, and other school-related problems are associated with adolescent substance abuse. Hawkins, Catalano, and Miller (1992) cite research that indicates both a low level of commitment to education and higher truancy rates. Cognitive and behavioral problems experienced by alcohol- and drug-using youth may not only interfere with their academic performance but may also disrupt learning by their classmates (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1992).
- Health-related consequences of teenage substance abuse include accidental injuries, physical disabilities and diseases, and the effects of possible overdoses. Death through suicide, homicide, accidents, and illness may be the final outcome for youth involved with alcohol and other drugs. Information drawn from the preliminary 1994 estimates of the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) indicates that drug-related hospital emergency episodes for youth ages 12-17 increased by 17 percent in 1994 over the rates for 1993. Significantly, there was a 50-percent increase in hospital emergency episodes related to marijuana/hashish use in this age group between 1993 and 1994. DAWN is a national survey conducted annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to estimate drug-related emergency department visits for various substances (McCaig, 1995).
- The danger of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases is increased for substance-abusing youth if they engage in high-risk behaviors, including the use of psychoactive substances (particularly those that are injected) or activities resulting from poor judgment and impulse control while experiencing the effects of mood-altering substances. Rates of AIDS diagnoses currently are relatively low among teenagers when compared with most other age groups. Nevertheless, because the disease has a long latent period before symptoms appear, many young adults with AIDS may actually have been infected with HIV as adolescents.
- Alcohol-related traffic fatalities for youth have declined, but young people are still overrepresented in this area. In 1995, more than 2,000 youth ages 15-20 were killed in alcohol-related car crashes (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1997).
- Substance-abusing youth may be alienated from and stigmatized by their peers. These young people also often disengage from school and community activities, thus depriving their peers and communities of positive contributions they might otherwise have made.
- Depression, developmental lag, apathy, withdrawal, and other psychosocial disorders are frequently linked to substance abuse among adolescents. Users are at higher risk than nonusers for mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide, completed suicide, depression, conduct problems, and personality disorders. Marijuana use, which is prevalent among youth, has been shown to interfere with short-term memory, learning, and psychomotor skills. Motivation and psychosexual/emotional development may also be influenced (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1992).
- Many aspects of family life are jeopardized, sometimes resulting in family dysfunction. Siblings and parents are profoundly affected by alcohol- and drug-involved youth (Nowinski, 1990), who often drain family financial and emotional resources (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1992).
- High economic and social costs can result from monetary expenditures and emotional distress related to alcohol- and drug-related crimes, increased burdens for the support of adolescents and young adults who are not able to become self-supporting, and greater demands for medical and other treatment services for these youth (Gropper, 1985).
Connection Between Adolescent Substance Abuse and Delinquency
Possession and use of alcohol and other drugs are illegal for all youth. Because substance abuse and delinquency are inextricably linked, arrest, adjudication, and intervention by the juvenile justice system are eventual consequences for many young people engaged in such behavior. Substance abuse and delinquency often share the common factors of school and family problems, negative peer groups, lack of neighborhood social controls, and a history of physical or sexual abuse (Hawkins et al., 1987; Wilson and Howell, 1993). Substance abuse is also associated with violent and income-generating crime by youth, which increases community residentsí level of fear and the demand for juvenile and criminal justice services, thereby further increasing the burden on these resources. Gangs, drug trafficking, prostitution, and youth homicides are other related social and criminal justice problems often linked to adolescent substance abuse.
- The DUF program found that male juveniles arrested for drug offenses (e.g., sales, possession) had the highest rate of positive drug tests when compared with youth arrested for other types of crimes. However, a substantial rate of drug use was also found among youth who committed violent, property, and other crimes (National Institute of Justice, 1996).
- Survey of Youth in Custody, 1987 (Beck, Kline, and Greenfeld, 1988) found that more than 39 percent of youth under age 18 were under the influence of drugs at the time of their current offense. More than 57 percent reported having used a drug within the previous month.
- A study of 113 delinquent youth in a State detention facility found that 82 percent reported being heavy (daily) users of alcohol and other drugs just prior to admission to the facility; 14 percent were regular users (more than two times weekly); and 4 percent reported occasional use (DeFrancesco, 1996).
- A study conducted in 1988 in Washington, D.C., found that youth who both sold and used drugs were more likely to commit crimes than those who only sold drugs or only used drugs. Heavy drug users were more likely to commit property crimes than nonusers, and youth who trafficked in drugs reported higher rates of crimes against persons. Youth in this sample were most likely to commit burglary or sell drugs while using drugs or seeking to obtain drugs. About one-fourth of the youth also reported attacking another youth to obtain drugs. However, among the youth in this sample, the majority who committed crimes did not do so in connection with drugs (Altschuler and Brounstein, 1991).
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