National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families

The Significance of Delinquency as a Risk Factor for Adolescent Drug Abuse

Winters, K.C.
Year Published: Not Dated
Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
National Institute on Drug Abuse

This study addresses the need to empirically test theories about the pathways to drug involvement pertinent to severe-end, clinic-referred youth. The study examined in a drug-clinic-referred sample of youth the conduct-disorder hypothesis of adolescent drug abuse, which had previously been tested primarily on youth samples from the general population. Each of the 2582 youth in the sample met the criteria for abuse of or dependence on at least one psychoactive substance. The authors hypothesized that, based on self-report data, a delinquency factor would account for the most variance in drug use compared to three competing factors: psychological distress, nonconventional values, and family distress. Support for the hypothesis was obtained across sex, age, and ethnic groups. The delinquency factor was found to account for about 50 percent to 60 percent of the variance in severity of drug use. Confirmatory prediction analysis of individual scales indicated that peer chemical environment and deviant behavior, both part of the delinquency factor, and (to a lesser degree) psychological disturbance, part of the psychological distress factor, were consistently the most predictive of drug use. The authors see the findings as consistent with the viewpoint that delinquency behaviors are important mediators of adolescent drug abuse and thus merit central attention in prevention programs. Modified Author Abstract.

K.C. Winters, Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota, Box 393, 420 Delaware Street, S.E., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455; E-mail:
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