Lack of Co-Occurring Interpersonal Violence-Related Emotional Difficulties and Alcohol or Other Drug Problems among African American Youth with Conduct Disorder

Article excerpt

With data drawn from the juvenile court records of 257 adjudicated male African American youth offenders aged 12 to 17, the present study examines this adolescent population's involvement in assaultive interpersonal violence within the context of a descriptive evaluation of co-occurring alcohol use disorder, other drug use disorder, and other mental disorders. Comorbidity was assessed by calculating the prevalence rates for co-occurring interpersonal violence and the three disorders. The results of this investigation failed to support the notion that interpersonal violence and substance use or other mental disorders arise from the same source; rather, they offer cautious optimism about the outcome of mental health, substance abuse, and educational interventions targeting these youth.

Considerable attention has been paid to the concepts of risk and vulnerability in discussions of societal problems, and both are essential to understanding of the etiology of mental disorders. For example, childhood disadvantages such as adverse familial and parental circumstances serve as markers for development of emotional problems, and factors such as poverty or low socioeconomic status are typically mentioned as risk factors for drug and alcohol use (Brunswick, Messeri, & Titus, 1992; Clayton, 1992; Hawkins, Lishner, Jenson, & Catalano, 1987; Newcomb, 1992; Romano, Bloom, & Syme, 1991). Concurrently, conduct disorder and early childhood violence are often cited as precursors of antisocial personality disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Hammond & Yung, 1993; Rodney, Mupier, & Crafter, 1996).

Epidemiology studies are the hallmark of risk and vulnerability research (Johnston, 1992; Regier & Burke,1985). They are particularly useful in identifying groups with special intervention needs. One such investigation, the National Institute of Mental Health's (NIMH) Epidemiological Catchment Area (ECA) study, noted substantial comorbidity between substance-related and mental disorders among incarcerated populations, within whose ranks African Americans number prominently (Regier et al., 1990). Another major study, supported by the National Center for Health Statistics, indicated that the rate of death due to interpersonal violence for African American youth was seven times higher than that of their White counterparts (Fingerhut & Makuc, 1992). Epidemiologic findings were also used to generate the federal "Healthy People 2000" guidelines which, among other things, acknowledge racial differences in negative health outcomes and emphasize the special health needs of African Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990). The assumption behind these recommendations is that African Americans experience higher levels of risk as a result of their traditionally disadvantaged status and thus are more vulnerable to health problems and mental disorders. However, this focus on risk has also helped perpetuate a dim view of some African American families and the behaviors of their children (Collier, 1992; Harper, 1991; Rhodes, Singleton, & Miller, 1995; Singleton, 1989).

Clearly, epidemiological and other scientific research has value implications because the American public relies heavily on the judgments of science for many of its value determinations. This same public, however, often fails to truly understand the extremely negative influence scientific findings can have upon public perceptions. Consider, for example, the purportedly "scientific" comments of Frederick Goodwin, former director of NIMH and one of the co-authors of the ECA study. When Goodwin suggested in 1992 that inner-city ghetto males were similar to jungle monkeys with regard to violent and sexual behaviors, he was offering far more than a mere report of his research team's data analysis (Jackson & George, 1996). He was, as Jackson and George maintain, contributing to the "perceptual, comprehensive and systematic process of destruction" of the image of Black men and youth "who are much more vulnerable to research abuse than most [Black people] realize" (p. …