The Longitudinal Associations Between Substance Use, Crime, and Social Risk Among Emerging Adults

A Longitudinal Within and Between-Person Latent Variables Analysis

Published in: Drug and Alcohol Dependence, v. 165, 1 Aug. 2016, p. 71-78

Posted on RAND.org on July 21, 2016

by Gabriel J. Merrin, Jordan P. Davis, Daniel Berry, Elizabeth J. D'Amico, Tara M. Dumas

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Research Question

  1. How does understanding of the link between crime and substance use in young adults change with the use of ALT-SR (auto-regressive latent growth with structured residuals) modeling in comparison to ARCL (auto-regressive, cross-lagged) modeling?

BACKGROUND: The reciprocal relationship between crime and substance use is well known. However, when examining this relationship, no study to date has disaggregated between- and within-person effects, which represents a more methodologically sound and developmentally-appropriate analytic approach. Further, few studies have considered the role of social risk (e.g., deviant peers, high-risk living situations) in the aforementioned relationship. We examined these associations in a group of individuals with heightened vulnerability to substance use, crime and social risk: emerging adults (aged 18–25 years) in substance use treatment. METHODS: Participants were 3479 emerging adults who had entered treatment. We used auto-regressive latent growth models with structured residuals (ALT-SR) to examine the within-person cross-lagged association between crime and substance use and whether social risk contributed to this association. A taxonomy of nested models was used to determine the structural form of the data, within-person cross-lagged associations, and between-person associations. RESULTS: In contrast to the extant literature on cross-lagged relations between crime and substance use, we found little evidence of such relations once between- and within-person relations were plausibly disaggregated. Yet, our results indicated that within-person increases in social risk were predictive of subsequent increases in crime and substance use. Post-hoc analyses revealed a mediation effect of social risk between crime and substance use. CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest the need to re-think the association between crime and substance use among emerging adults. Individuals that remain connected to high-risk social environments after finishing treatment may represent a group that could use more specialized, tailored treatments.

Key Findings

  • ALT-SR modeling advances the understanding of the longitudinal effects of social risk, crime, and substance use among young adults who have been in substance abuse treatment.
  • Previous studies of the associations between crime and substance use have used the ARCL model and have not considered within-person (individual-level) effects or addressed social context.
  • Inclusion of within-person effects with the ALT-SR model allows researchers to interpret findings in a more developmentally appropriate and statistically meaningful way, and can help them understand how treatment might work at an individual level.
  • The ALT-SR model also shows that social risk mediates the association between substance use and crime.

Recommendations

  • This study's findings suggest that the association between crime and substance abuse among young adults needs to be re-evaluated.
  • Interventions could include a focus on changing one's environment or use of motivational interviewing to help young adults with strong ties to high-risk social environments sustain their reductions in substance use and criminal behavior after treatment.

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