The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Living On the Wrong Side of the Law: The Role of Involvement in Criminal Activity in Predicting Adolescent Substance Use

Saturday, January 18, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Camille R. Quinn, AM, Doctoral Candidate, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Elizabeth A. Bowen, AM, Doctoral Candidate, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Henrika McCoy, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Purpose: Substance use among youth is an important public health and safety concern. Approximately 15% of youth arrests are directly related to substance use. Research conducted with incarcerated youth has identified elevated rates of substance use for this population, but few studies have examined the relationship between criminal activity and substance use for youth in representative community samples (which may include adolescents with previous arrests who currently reside in their communities). Both substance use and criminal activity may be associated with demographic factors, including gender, race, and income. For example, higher rates of substance use and criminal activity have historically been found among male youth, but recent research indicates that young women’s use of some substances is surpassing young men’s use. The purpose of this study was to examine whether lifetime self-reported arrests for criminal activity predicted recent substance use in a sample of youth from the general population while controlling for race, gender, and income.

Methods:  Data were analyzed from a representative sample of youth age 12-17 (n=19,264) included in the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Nested logistic regression models were constructed to test the effect of the predictors on self-reported use of alcohol, marijuana, or other illicit drugs in the past 30 days. Demographic predictors were entered in the first block of each model. Criminal activity was operationalized as a dichotomous variable, indicative of having ever been arrested for breaking the law, and entered into the second block.

Results: Youth reported use of alcohol (13.5%), marijuana (7.9%), and other illicit drugs (4.3%). Six percent of respondents reported ever having been arrested. For each model, both the demographic block of variables and the arrest variable were statistically significant, p < .01. The Hosmer-Lemeshow test was not significant for each model, indicating good fit. The arrest variable was a strong predictor of substance use. Odds ratios for youth with prior arrests were 4.25 for alcohol use, 6.20 for marijuana use, and 4.57 for illicit drugs, all significant at p < .001. When compared to females, males were more likely to report marijuana use (OR=1.19), but less likely to report alcohol (OR=.88) or other illicit drug use (OR=.76). Compared to White youth, African Americans were less likely to report any substance use; Asian Americans and Hispanics were less likely to report alcohol or marijuana use. The likelihood of illicit drug use decreased as family income increased, with an odds ratio of .58 for youth in the highest income category compared with those in the lowest.

Implications: Previous arrests were a strong predictor of recent substance use, especially for marijuana. This suggests a need for enhanced substance use prevention and treatment efforts for youth who have been involved in the criminal justice system, even when their arrests are not substance related. Though the demographic factors were weaker predictors, these findings were generally consistent with past research. Future research should examine the factors that may influence youth substance use and different types of criminal activity to develop multidimensional prevention interventions.