Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Acute and Chronic Effects of Substance Use as Predictors of Criminal Offense Types among Juvenile Offenders

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Acute and Chronic Effects of Substance Use as Predictors of Criminal Offense Types among Juvenile Offenders

Article excerpt


Substance use is a widespread problem among youth involved in the juvenile justice system. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA, 2004), it is estimated that just over 78% of juvenile arrests in 2000 involved adolescents who (a) were under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs while committing an offense, (b) were arrested for a substance-related offense (e.g., liquor law violations and drug possession), (c) had reported social problems related to their substance use, or (d) had tested positive for drugs at the time they were taken into custody. Therefore, 1.9 million youth who came into contact with the criminal justice system were also affected in some way by substance use. This segment of the population may be most at risk for long-term, substance-related problems, including the development of a substance use disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Teplin et al., 2005). The consequences of prolonged substance use may also contribute to the continuation of problem behavior into later stages of life, especially compared to youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system and do not have a history of substance use (Menard, Mihalic, & Huizinga, 2001; Tarter, Kirisci, Mezzich, & Patton, 2011).

Beyond the obvious need for early intervention and prevention programming to address substance use and dependence among juvenile offenders, there are additional costs associated with overlooking these issues. A considerable amount of criminal justice resources are allocated toward detaining juvenile offenders in various stages of the criminal justice process-from offenders with substance use problems to those awaiting adjudication, or those who are serving sentences. Estimates from detailed budget information from 45 states in 2004 revealed that juvenile justice corrections expenditures were approximately $3.6 billion for those offenders who experienced problems related to substance use (CASA, 2004). This figure underscores the importance and desperate need for additional research in this area to gain a better understanding of the complex links between the consequences of substance use and offending in order to progress toward more efficient and responsive policies.

According to Goldstein's (1985) tripartite framework, substance use may precede or accompany crime in at least three ways. That is, substancedriven offending can be economically, systemically, or psychopharmacologically motivated. Economic motivations for crime (e.g., robbery or burglary) may be based on securing financial resources that are needed to obtain drugs. In comparison, systemic crime is characteristic of broader involvement in illicit drug markets (e.g., victimization of one drug dealer by another dealer). Most importantly, at least with respect to the current study, psychopharmacologically driven crime stems specifically from the ingestion of specific substances.

The psychopharmacological effects of certain substances vary significantly and are associated with different types of criminal activity. The acute effects of alcohol, for instance, follow a biphasic time course that typically results in initial feelings of euphoria or relaxation at small doses, but larger doses can lead to memory impairment, behavioral disinhibition, and possibly severe withdrawal (Oscar-Berman & Marinkovic, 2007). These effects have profound implications for certain types of offenses, especially violent confrontational encounters such as assault (Felson & Staff, 2010).

A significant amount of work has examined the relationship between alcohol and several different types of delinquency and criminal offending among adolescents. One study involving students in New York state schools, for example, found that youth who had higher daily average alcohol consumption were more likely to be involved in general delinquent activities (e.g., carrying a weapon, skipping school, beating someone up; Barnes, Welte, & Hoffman, 2002). …

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