Abstract: Moderating Effects in the Association between Substance Use and Adolescent Delinquency (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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40P Moderating Effects in the Association between Substance Use and Adolescent Delinquency

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Li Qingyi, M.L., PhD, Research Assistant, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Brenda Smith, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Background. The connection between adolescent delinquency and substance use is a significant concern for children’s development and public health in the United States. While a link between substance use and delinquency has been established, less is known about factors that moderate the relationship. The present study investigated moderating effects on the associations between three forms of substance use (social, hard, and prescription) and adolescent delinquency. The study fills a knowledge gap by addressing the questions: How do three forms substances use relate to violent and non-violent delinquent behaviors? Do family dynamics and positive drug prevention communication moderate associations between substance use and adolescent delinquency?

Methods. The study used a sample of 13,722 adolescents age 12-17 years from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Violent and non-violent behaviors were the dependent variables. Key independent variables were three forms of substance use. Moderation effects included parental monitoring, parental support, parent-child conflicts, and positive drug prevention communication. Control variables were demographic characteristics, including gender, age, race/ethnicity, and household income. Using the Rstudio statistical package, bivariate analyses and multivariate linear regression models were conducted to assess the associations with adolescent delinquency.

Results. The findings show a fairly low prevalence of both violent and non-violent theft behaviors. The majority of adolescents were not engaged in any delinquent behaviors. At a bivariate level, three forms of substances use and the moderating factors (i.e., parental monitoring, parental support, parent-child conflicts, and positive drug prevention communication) were significantly associated with both violent and non-violent behaviors. In multivariate regression models, all three forms of substances use (p<.001) were positively associated with adolescent delinquency and hard substance use revealed the strongest association with both violent (b=0.961, p<.001) and non-violent (b=.0324, p<.001) behaviors among US adolescents. Accounting for moderation effects, positive drug prevention communication had a significant buffering effect on both violent (b=-0.353, p<.05) and non-violent (b=-0.202, p<.001) behaviors. Among adolescents who used hard substances, those exposed to positive drug prevention communication were significantly less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors.

Conclusions. The study points to the promise of basic, cost-effective prevention for reducing both adolescent substance use and delinquency among adolescents in the United States. First, this study confirmed strong associations between three forms of substances use and adolescent delinquency. More important, this study suggests that positive drug prevention communication via mass media may be an effective way of mitigating delinquent behaviors among adolescents who use substances. Social work has a long history collaborating in school settings. Social workers can play a role as an important part of the education team in classrooms advocating and administering positive drug prevention communication and violence prevention seamlessly and naturally. Additionally, social workers are well-positioned in policy advocacy for promoting and improving the overall well-being of children, adolescents, and families in the US. Future research should further explore and address potential moderating effects of drug prevention communication to see if its effects can be maintained in longitudinal studies.