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Developmental associations between substance use and violence



This study examined the developmental associations between substance use and violence. We examined the trends in each behavior throughout adolescence, how the behaviors covaried over time, and the symmetry of associations taking into account frequency and severity of each behavior. We also examined whether changes in one behavior affected changes in the other behavior over time. Six years of annual data were analyzed for 506 boys who were in the seventh grade at the first assessment. Concurrent associations between frequency of substance use and violence were relatively strong throughout adolescence and were somewhat stronger for marijuana than alcohol, especially in early adolescence. Type or severity of violence was not related to concurrent alcohol or marijuana frequency, but severity of drug use was related to concurrent violence frequency. Depending, to some degree, on the age of the subjects, the longitudinal relationships between substance use and violence were reciprocal during adolescence and slightly stronger for alcohol and violence than for marijuana and violence. Further, increases in alcohol use were related to increases in violence; however, when early alcohol use was controlled, increases in marijuana use were not related to increases in violence. Only in early adolescence was the longitudinal relationship between marijuana use and later violence especially strong. The strength of the longitudinal associations between violence and substance use did not change when common risk factors for violence and substance use were controlled. Overall, the data lend more support for a reciprocal than for a unidirectional association between substance use and violence. Prevention efforts should be directed at aggressive males who are multiple-substance users in early adolescence.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Helene Raskin White, Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers University, 607 Allison Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854-8001.
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Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
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