Alcohol and Drug Use Disorders Among Juvenile Detainees

Gary M. McClelland, Northwestern University Medical School
Katherine S. Elkington, Northwestern University Medical School
Linda A. Teplin, Northwestern University Medical School
Karen M. Abram, Northwestern University Medical School

The connection between substance use and juvenile delinquency is well known. Researchers estimate up to 90% of detained youth have used drugs, alcohol, or both, and that many may meet criteria for one or more substance use disorders. The use of alcohol and drugs becomes a disorder when use continues despite impairment in social, psychological, or physical functioning. Some individuals also experience physiological symptoms such as increased tolerance and withdrawal. The literature suggests that combinations of two or more substance use disorders (e.g. concurrent alcohol and marijuana disorders) have much worse outcomes than single substance use disorders.

However, there has never been a large-scale study of multiple substance use disorders among detained youth. We present rates and combinations of alcohol, marijuana and other drug use disorders from the Northwestern Juvenile Project. The study sample consists of 1829 randomly selected juvenile detainees, 1172 males, and 657 females, ages 10-18. Fifty percent of detained youth meet criteria for at least one substance use disorder, and 20.4% have two or more substance use disorders. In addition, 45.62% of youth with a drug use disorder also meet criteria for alcohol use disorder, and 80% of those with alcohol use disorder also meet criteria for one or more drug use disorders. We discuss the implications of these findings for treatment and intervention strategies and for juvenile justice policy.

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Updated 05/20/2006