November 06, 2017
1 min read

Substance use, delinquent behaviors decreases among US adolescents

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Richard A. Grucza

Analysis of national data showed significant decreases in substance use disorders and delinquent behaviors among adolescents in the U.S.

“We’ve known that teens overall are becoming less likely to engage in risky behaviors, and that’s good news,” Richard A. Grucza, PhD, of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, said in a press release. “But what we learned in this study is that the declines in substance abuse are connected to declines in delinquency. This suggests the changes have been driven more by changes in adolescents themselves than by policies to reduce substance abuse or delinquent behavior.”

To determine trends in substance use disorders and delinquent behaviors among adolescents from 2003 to 2014, researchers analyzed data for individuals aged 12 to 17 years from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (n = 210,599).

Trend analysis indicated the mean number of substance use disorders decreased by 49% and delinquent behaviors decreased by 34% during the 12-year period.

Item Response Theory models showed consistent results, suggesting that declines in each set of outcomes may be due to changes in mean levels of a latent externalizing trait.

“It’s not clear what is driving the parallel declines,” Grucza said in the release. “New policies — including things like higher cigarette taxes and stricter anti-bullying policies — certainly have a positive effect. But seeing these trends across multiple behaviors suggests that larger environmental factors are at work. These might include reductions in childhood lead exposure, lower rates of child abuse and neglect, and better mental health care for children.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosures: Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.