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Substance Use and Delinquent Behavior Among Serious Adolescent Offenders

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2010
16 pages
Publication Series
Based on the findings of the Pathways to Desistance study, which monitored approximately 1,300 serious juvenile offenders for 7 years after their convictions, this paper focuses on findings related to the link between adolescent substance use and serious offending.
The study found that serious/chronic offenders are much more likely than other juvenile offenders to be substance users and to qualify as having substance use disorders. Substance use and offending at one age is a consistent predictor of continued serious offending at a later age. Factors such as sensation-seeking, uninhibited behavior, poor affect regulation, stress, and depression can lead to "externalizing" behaviors such as substance use and criminal activity. Substance use and serious offending fluctuate in similar patterns over time, suggesting a reciprocal or sequential relationship, but no causal relationship has been proven. The study found that substance use and serious offending decrease in late adolescence. Identifying and examining the factors that enable youth to desist from these behaviors as they learn new skills and mature with age may reveal avenues for intervention. 79 references

Date Published: December 1, 2010