The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Do Adolescents Sell Drugs to Support Their Habits? an Empirical Study of the Relationship Between Adolescent Drug Selling and Drug Use

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 4:30 PM
Nautilus 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Heath Johnson, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Lisa Schelbe, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Jeffrey Shook, PhD, JD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Sara Goodkind, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose: Youth who sell drugs are more likely than those who do not to use substances and engage in delinquent and other risky behaviors (Vaughn et al, 2011; Shook et al., 2011). Yet, little research has explored youths’ motivations for dealing drugs. In one of few quantitative studies exploring such motivations, Little and Steinberg (2006) found contextual factors encompassing neighborhood, parental, and peer influences and representing opportunities for dealing were directly and indirectly related to drug dealing (partially mediated by commitment to conventional goals and school). Self-control and resistance to peer influences were associated with a lower likelihood of drug dealing. However, this study did not explore drug use as a motivation for drug dealing, which is important because of the established relationship between use and dealing. One study found that 69% of youthful offenders who sold drugs reported keeping more than half of the drugs they purchased for their own use (Shook et al., 2011), suggesting that drug use may be a motivation for selling drugs. Consequently, this study explores the relationship between youths’ drug use and drug selling.

Methods: Data are derived from a non-probability sample (N = 227) of 14-19 year old young women and men in two residential facilities for juvenile offenders. Trained graduate students conducted structured one-on-one interviews. Logistic regression was used to examine relationships between drug dealing and drug use while accounting for demographic characteristics, neighborhood context, family stress, personality characteristics, legal cynicism, gang involvement, and peer substance use. To examine breadth and depth, substance use was operationalized in three different ways: count of 15 different substances used, daily use of marijuana, and use of substances other than marijuana more than twice a week. These measures were entered in three different sets of models to examine the relationships between use and type of drug sold (marijuana, hard drugs, and prescription drugs).

Results: Using a broad range of substances and daily use of marijuana were associated with dealing each type of drug. However, using other substances more than twice a week was not related to drug dealing. Neighborhood disorder and gang membership were related to dealing each drug type across all models. Informal social control was related to marijuana and hard drug dealing but not to prescription drug selling. Neither family stress nor legal cynicism was related to dealing. Higher levels of callousness and associating with peers who use substances were related to dealing each drug type, and youth exhibiting higher levels of responsibility were more likely to deal hard drugs.

Conclusion and Implications: While the results are similar to those of Little and Steinberg (2006) in that living in places where there is more opportunity for drug dealing increases the likelihood of drug dealing, this study adds to the knowledge base by demonstrating that drug use is related to dealing. These findings suggest that interventions with youth dealing drugs must be multifaceted, addressing opportunities for illicit behavior as well as youths’ own drug use.