Chapter 11 examines the connections between substance use and juvenile delinquency, including both legal and illegal drugs. The chapter discuss reasons that youths use drugs, how this usage is associated with delinquency, and methods of prevention and treatment.
- The problems of drug use are different for youths than for adults in the following ways: (1) Young people don't have the emotional maturity to make rational decisions about drugs (age of reason); (2) Parents and society expect parents to control the behavior of their children (interaction with parents).
- Tobacco use remains legal for adults. Youths under age 18 (all 50 states have established this age limit) are prohibited from buying and using tobacco products. Smoking and other forms of tobacco use remain a major health problem for young people.
- The use of tobacco among young people is considered more problematic than adult use because smoking dangers are cumulative, and the age a youth begins to smoke is important. Almost 90 percent of smokers start smoking by age 18. Those who start smoking at a young age find it harder to quit.
- Authorities are concerned about underage smoking for reasons other than juvenile health. For youths who break smoking laws, it can be an indication that they're likely to break other laws.
- Alcohol is hard to keep away from children and teenagers because it's legal to consume for those over age 21. Despite a drop in the use of alcohol by high school students, alcohol is the most common mind-altering substance used during adolescence.
- There are also questions as to whether alcohol is a gateway drug. The concept of gateway drugs involves two scenarios: drug users constantly seek a more powerful high, and deviance causes deviance.
- The most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, marijuana ranks second only to alcohol and tobacco as the most commonly used substance by adolescents.
- Methamphetamine can have devastating physical effects. A central nervous system stimulant similar in structure to amphetamine, meth is classified as a Schedule II drug because it's so easily abused. Meth can be particularly devastating for children and adolescents, affecting them in terms of being a user and being a victim of adult users.
- Inhalants include a number of products that can be found in ordinary household chemicals. Inhalants are drugs of choice for many young people because they're relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain. Youths often inhale spray paint, glue, gasoline, or canned air. One of the major concerns for police, teachers, and parents is that inhalants are readily available and aren't often recognized by parents as drugs.
- The fourth most commonly misused substance among adolescents is prescription drugs. Like inhalants, it's often difficult to tell when youths are abusing prescription drugs. This is because, for the most part, youths don't attempt to purchase these drugs but rather steal them from the medicine cabinets of their parents or their friends' parents. Often, prescription drugs are used with other substances, especially alcohol.
- Performance-enhancing drugs are used by some athletic adolescents to increase power, endurance, or strength. Performance-enhancing drugs include anabolic steroids; the hormones androstenedione, human growth hormone, and erythropoietin; diuretics; creatine; and stimulants.
WHY DO YOUTHS TAKE DRUGS?
- Youth drug use is typically a group activity. Peer pressure is a powerful contributor to delinquency because juveniles have a desperate need to fit in (establishing identity); juveniles test the boundaries of appropriate behavior by engaging in risky and dangerous activities (thrill-seeking); peers who use drugs together share a bonding experience (shared intimacy).
- In addition to peers, family influences may encourage youths to use alcohol and drugs. Parents may set a poor role model by using cigarettes and becoming dependent on alcohol and/or prescription drugs. Children learn that these are natural behaviors and that they're positively rewarded as indications of successful adulthood. The influence of family members on drug and alcohol use by children may be unintentional.
- In socially disorganized neighborhoods, youngsters are often left to their own devices. Those who live in affluent neighborhoods may be just as likely to use drugs and alcohol as those in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
- Internal factors may also influence a youth's decision to use drugs. The first type of physical factor is genetic. At the emotional level, some individuals appear to have an addiction-prone personality. In the case of adolescent males, substance abuse is considered a way to achieve masculinity. Rational choice theory suggests that the decision to use drugs or alcohol is based on the activity's calculated costs and benefits.
DRUGS AND DELINQUENCY
- Because underage drinking and using prohibited substances are delinquency, there is a direct relationship between substance abuse and delinquency. According to the Pathways to Desistance study, serious and chronic delinquents are much more likely than other delinquents to be substance-users and to have substance-use disorders.
- Selling recreational drugs in the underground economy can bring trouble from the law. Often, selling drugs isn't as risky for young people as it is for adults. This is because the juvenile justice system is geared more toward treatment than punishment.
- Another drug-related source of crime and delinquency involves drug users acquiring the money to support their habits. The offenses can range from armed robbery to burglary to stealing money out of mom's purse. Alcohol is also strongly linked to aggression.
- Proponents of drug legalization argue that crime and delinquency would occur less often if drugs were readily and cheaply available because users wouldn't need so much money to buy them. Opponents of drug legalization or decriminalization contend that crime would increase if drugs were more readily available.
- Drugs are a significant problem for young people. Substances not only affect youths' health and quality of life, but also bring them into contact with the law. Many youth agencies and the juvenile justice system have developed programs to address the issues of drug use and abuse among juveniles early in their lives.
- Youth drug-prevention programs have been developed across a wide range of public and private agencies. These prevention efforts are also aimed at various points in the drug-use continuum in an effort to prevent early drug use and to deter those who are more advanced and sophisticated in their illegal drug-taking behavior.
- Several models for prevention programs can be employed to prevent young people from using drugs. One common model found in schools and communities is the knowledge model of drug-use prevention, or the idea that educating individuals about the potential harms of substance use will stop them from using substances. Some critics contend this model is just propaganda designed to scare youths into avoiding drugs.
- The knowledge model has three major problems. The first has to do with the assumption that young people don't have prior knowledge about drugs and that introducing them to the desired knowledge early will shield them from developing pro-drug attitudes. The second problem with these knowledge models is they ignore the features of large parts of American society. The third problem has to do with the legitimacy of those giving the message.
- Some programs that can prevent substance abuse may address issues that aren't concerned with drug use at all, but rather with some of the antecedent factors that result in drug use. These factors, such as poverty, lack of recreational opportunities, inadequate schools, and blighted neighborhoods, can be influenced by programs that increase the quality of life for everyone and have a direct and indirect effect upon youth drug use. In this context, it's useful to think of youth drug use as a symptom of larger social problems.
- Drug-treatment programs vary widely depending upon the type of drug being addressed. They also vary according to criteria such as age, motivation, and financial resources. Additionally, the goals of drug treatment can differ according to the methodology used to address drug use. Some drug-treatment programs are aimed at total abstinence whereas others are aimed at controlled usage.