Childhood Delinquency Linked to Alcohol Abuse, Risky Behavior in Adulthood

A new study suggests that the chances of at-risk youth falling into a life of crime or alcohol abuse during adulthood can be circumvented with intervention outreach, especially when performed at an early stage.

Researchers at the National Research Institute for Child and Family Studies and the University of Washington compared the relationships between childhood delinquency and later alcohol use, criminal activity, and risky sexual activity among those from disadvantaged homes and those from better backgrounds. In their study, lead researcher W. Alex Mason and colleagues gave self-assessment tests to a sample of 808 youths between the ages of 10 to 24 who were either from low-income or middle-income family households. Participants were asked to report their level of involvement in delinquency, alcohol use, and sexual activity during their late childhood, and prevalence of alcohol use disorders, criminal activity; alcohol use and delinquency during adolescence; and risky sexual activity and criminal activity during young adulthood.

They found that children who came from more disadvantaged homes were at highest risk for problems during adolescence and early adulthood. Participants who reported frequent involvement in delinquency, alcohol use, and risky sexual behavior during their late childhood and early adolescence were associated with alcohol use disorders, risky sexual behavior, and chronic crime during adulthood. Children who grew up in low-income households were more likely to experience childhood delinquency by age 10 and were twice as likely to experience early sexual activity by age 11 compared to those children from middle-income households. On the other hand, participants from middle-income households were 1.5 times more likely to experience early alcohol use by age 10 compared to those who had low-income backgrounds.

Researchers found several relationships between childhood and adolescent behaviors and risky behavior during young adulthood. Delinquency during late childhood was linked to criminal activity, alcohol use disorders, and risky sexual behavior during young adulthood; and childhood delinquency that led to risky behavior during adulthood was indirectly related to adolescent delinquency, and directly and consistently impacted the likelihood of crime. Delinquent behavior during adolescence abetted the likelihood of criminal and early sexual activity among participants, and early alcohol use was associated with an increasingly high rate of adolescent alcohol consumption as well as alcohol use disorders in adulthood. Early alcohol use was also connected to risky sexual activity during adulthood.

Although risky behavior is common during young adulthood—such as alcohol use disorders, risky sexual behavior, and criminal activity—researchers found that these behaviors were more prevalent among individuals who came from low-income backgrounds. When these problem behaviors occur during childhood or adolescence, parents and health professionals can help prevent the development of these problems during adulthood by performing early interventions. Early identification of these problems in at-risk children can implement interventional efforts to avoid greater and more frequent problems in later life.

Source: Medical News Today, Disadvantaged Adolescents Prone To Adult Crime And Substance Abuse Problems, August 17, 2010

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