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Addiction Careers and Criminal Specialization

NCJ Number
Crime and Delinquency Volume: 47 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2001 Pages: 196-220
Date Published
April 2001
25 pages

This study examines the specific relationship between addiction and criminal careers using empirically and theoretically justified categories of criminal and drug use behaviors.


For many drug users, the initiation of drug use and the subsequent transition to an addiction career is accompanied by criminal activities. However, the use of general crime and drug use categories often obscures important features of their relationship. In this study, data from the national Drug Abuse Treatment Outcomes Studies (DATOS) sample of 7,189 clients in substance abuse treatment were analyzed to explore the relationships between several addiction career variables and the likelihood of lifetime participation in predatory, victimless, and non-specialized criminal behaviors. On average, DATOS clients began their addiction careers before they initiated their criminal careers. Findings also suggest that offenders who segued into criminal careers via their addiction careers were more likely to participate in victimless than in predatory crimes. In contrast, substance-abusing offenders for whom criminal activity preceded regular drug use were at greater risk for participating exclusively in predatory crimes. In contrast to victimless offenders, non-specialized offenders were less likely to begin their addiction careers prior to their criminal careers and more likely to be dependent on illicit substances than on alcohol. The findings also suggest a tendency for offenders who are dependent on cocaine, heroin, or both to show less criminal specialization. Addiction measures proved far superior in distinguishing between predatory, victimless, and non-specialized offenders. A significant study limitation identified was that the data are based on self-reports. The present study contributes to the growing body of research suggesting the importance of the type, severity, and order of initiation of regular substance use in predicting criminal participation and diversity. References

Date Published: April 1, 2001