Exploring associations between substance use and adolescent delinquency: an ecological perspective

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University of Alabama Libraries

Adolescent delinquency and substance use are significant concerns which influence youth development and overall well-being in the United States. The present dissertation focuses on adolescent substance use and delinquent behaviors. Particularly, this study investigates relationships between three forms of adolescent substance use and delinquent behaviors. In addition, the study investigates whether factors from different layers of the adolescent eco-system moderate relationships between substance use and adolescent delinquency. Although many recent studies have investigated the relationship between substance abuse and adolescent delinquency, few studies have investigated moderating effects from an eco-systems perspective. To contribute to existing knowledge, the present study investigates three potential moderating effects representing different layers of the ecological system to advance understanding of more complicated and multifaceted relationships between substance use and adolescent delinquency. The sample of the present study was extracted from a cross-sectional public-use dataset, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2017. The survey involved a nationally representative sample of adolescents (N=13,722). Hypotheses were generated based in theory and past empirical findings. The study findings partly supported most of the research hypotheses. Three forms of substance use were positively associated with both violent and theft delinquent behaviors. In addition, several factors were found to moderate the relationship between adolescent substance use and involvement with delinquent behaviors. Most importantly, positive drug prevention communication significantly moderated relationships between substance use and delinquency. Adolescent substance users who had ever received any positive drug prevention communication via mass media were less likely than those who had not received such messages to engage in both violent and theft behaviors. The findings are highly relevant to social work practice, research, and policy related to substance use and adolescent delinquency. Whereas many interventions to reduce adolescent delinquency or to mitigate negative effects of substance use focus on the individual and the family, the study results illustrate that larger social systems, including systems delivering mass communication, such as social media may also have potential to mitigate negative effects of adolescent substance use. Moreover, the findings suggest a number of future directions for further investigations of the role of family relationships and positive drug prevention communication in reducing substance use and delinquent behaviors among US adolescents.

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Social work