Impact of Substance Use on Criminal Behavior Over the Life Course

Jason A. Ford, The Bowling Green State University

The work of Sampson and Laub has brought the life course perspective to the fore in criminololgy. Their Age-Graded theory accounts for both continuity and change in offending. Stability occurs via a state dependence process, whereby involvement in criminal behavior produces a "cumultive continuity of disadvantage," creating a direct causal link between prior and future offending. On the other hand, change is made possible via the accumulation of "social capital," resulting in strong social bonding in adulthood. Building on the work of Sampson and Laub, this research examines the impact of substance abuse on the involvement in criminal behavior over the life course. Using data from the National Youth Survey, structural equation modeling is used to assess the impact of substance abuse on both stability and change in criminal behavior over time. It is hypothesized that substance abuse is positively related to criminal behavior for two main reasons. First, individuals who abuse drugs are more likely to be seriously involved in criminal activity, than individuals who do not have substance abuse problems. Second, individuals who abuse drugs are less likely to have strong bonds to work and marriage, than individuals who do not abuse drugs. Taken together, substance abuse promotes stability in offending behavior by heightening involvement in criminal behavior and weakening social bonds, thus serving to exacerbate the "cumulative continuity of disadvantage" central to Sampson and Laub's theory.

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Updated 05/20/2006