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Childhood Adversity and Substance Use of Women Prisoners: A General Strain Theory Approach

NCJ Number
Journal of Crimminal Justice Volume: 40 Issue: 3 Dated: May/June 2012 Pages: 202-211
Susan F. Sharp; B. Mitchell Peck; Jennifer Hartsfield
Date Published
June 2012
10 pages
This study tested the efficacy of General Strain Theory (GST) in order to determine its general application across genders; and it examined whether specific individual measures of strain or an index of cumulative strain provide more information about the link between strain and deviance.
These objectives involved an analysis of the impact of strain on daily drug and alcohol use prior to incarceration, using data from the 2008 and 2009 Oklahoma Study of Incarcerated Women and Their Children. Agnew's original proposal of GST explained that "strains" are "events or conditions that are disliked by individuals." He identified three main sources of strain: the presence of negatively valued stimuli, the loss of positively valued stimuli, and failure to achieve positively valued goals. This study was limited to an examination of the presence of negatively valued stimuli, specifically those defined as adverse experiences in childhood in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study. The study found that for the 598 women inmates in this study, the tenets of GST did predict daily drug use. The study also found that the explanatory and predictive power of GST held whether or not individual or cumulative measures of strain were used. The authors argue that GST is particularly suited to the examination of female crime, because research has documented the link between abuse histories and substance abuse in females; indeed, over half of the female inmates in Oklahoma were sentenced on drug offenses. Approximately two-thirds of the women had also experienced physical or sexual abuse. They also began using alcohol or other substances to cope with the emotional distress caused by their stressful homes. 2 tables, 4 figures, 6 notes, and 68 references