Explaining Trajectories of Adolescent Drunkenness, Drug Use, and Criminality: A Latent Transition Analysis with Socio-Ecological Covariates

Background

Although there are different trajectories in the early development of substance use and criminality, it is less clear why some adolescents follow one pathway and not another. Few studies have probed how drunkenness, drug use, and criminal behaviour cluster and change within individuals during development. Further, little is known about the relative importance of different socio-ecological domains in explaining differential development. This study examined how four domains in adolescents’ socio-ecology – temperament, peer behaviours, family climate, and relative SES – were linked to different trajectories and whether some domains were more strongly associated with specific patterns of these behaviours.

Method

Data comes from the Longitudinal Research on Development in Adolescence (LoRDIA) study in Sweden. Adolescents were surveyed annually over a 3-year period from age 13-15 (n = 755). The sample was selected based on having two or more completed questionnaires. This gave 93% participation at age 13, and 89% and 91% participation respectively at follow-up. Latent transition analysis and multinomial logistic regression were conducted.

Results

Four latent statuses were found, showing heterogeneity in adolescent substance use and criminal behaviours. The “Abstainers” (80% of the sample) had a low probability of engaging in any of the three behaviours. The “Occasional law-breakers” (9.4%) had a high probability of committing crime on an infrequent basis, but did not engage in the other two behaviours. The “Dabblers” (9%) partook in the three behaviours in a casual and/or occasional manner, e.g. this group had a 46% probability of frequent drunkenness, alongside much lower probabilities of drug use, and a 45% probability of infrequent crime. The “Regular-All” (1.6%) had high probabilities of engaging in all three behaviours on a regular basis.

These statuses were however highly stable. Individual, peer and family domains were all relevant in distinguishing between the statuses. A key finding was that the relative importance of these domains differed between the statuses, suggesting differential effects of the domains on the different trajectories. A negative pre-teen family environment, as well as higher proportions of criminal peers, was most strongly associated with the more entrenched Regular-All group. This was not the case for the Dabblers group, who had marginally higher levels of novelty-seeking. For the Occasional Law Breakers, the strongest explanatory factors were higher levels of criminal peers.

Conclusion

Adolescents’ early engagement in drunkenness, drug use, and criminal behaviour follows diverse, but fairly stable pathways. Moreover, the differential development of these behaviours has different combinations of explanatory socio-ecological factors. Developmental theories may need to account more closely for the differential development of these behaviours in relation to different socio-ecological contexts.

Contact: russell.turner@socwork.gu.se

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