The extent, nature and consequences of drug use in criminal behavior are well known and well documented in the literature. The Monitoring the Future Survey along with many other state youth drug use surveys provide needed information to determine the extent of the youth drug use problem and its association to criminality in the United States. Various data suggest there is a growing problem while other sources illustrate drug use among youth is overall down nationally.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (2011) in 2009 ten percent of youth from the ages of 12 to 17 were illicit drug users. The top drug use was marijuana followed by prescription type, inhalants, hallucinogens and cocaine. In the same year, rates for alcohol use was 3.5 percent of persons aged 12 to 13. Thirteen percent for persons aged 14 to 15 and 26 percent for those 16 to 17 years of age.
An alarming six percent of those aged 16 to 17 reported driving while under the influence of alcohol and 17 percent of those 17 to 18 years of age. In terms of risk, about half of those reporting noted that it was fairly easy or very easy to obtain marijuana and they so desired and 15 percent reported that they had been approached to purchase drugs in the last 30 days.
Alcohol is far more the accessible and used gateway drug available. In this same report, 55.9 percent of underage drinkers had reported that their last drink of alcohol was consumed in someone else's home. Among those who did not pay for their alcohol directly, 37.1 percent noted that they had another person of legal age purchase it for them, 19.9 percent received it from an underage person and 20.6 percent were provided alcohol by their parents, guardians or adult family member.
What does all this mean in relationship to drug abuse, primarily alcohol? Well, we know that alcohol is the most accessible and often the first drug of choice as one begins to experiment with mood altering substances. How and at what point is the problem of drug use or alcohol linked to criminality? Does alcohol provide a pathway to criminality? Some studies suggest that not only does alcohol inhibit our sense but youth may also become more risky, impulsive and defiant.
There are several noted reasons why youth take drugs and these can be categorized around the risk domains. Siegel and Welsch (2012) identify social disorganization as a factor which is linked to poverty, growing up in a disorganized urban environment. Peer pressure was also noted as a reason and this reason was primarily linked to friends who also used drugs. It was through friends association and peer pressure that children would be more likely to indulge. Certainly family factors are important in understanding why youth take drugs. Poor family life which could include harsh punishment, neglect and poor family management increased the likelihood of youth drug use.
Genetic and environmental factors and traits linked to parent's drug abuse have a predisposing element to potential youth drug use and their life trajectory. Emotional problems associated with feelings of inadequacy, failure and blame position youth for the use of drugs. An extension of this problem is the problem behavior syndrome where drug use is one of many problem behaviors within the context of the youths' world. Finally, the rational choice concept associates certain perceived benefits with being impaired, which indicates that people often feel more relaxed, normal and creative when under the influence of a controlled substance. However, some researchers suggest that crime may even be the instrument of the drug trade. Drug users may also commit more crimes to pay off their debts to avoid physical harm or death to themselves or their family members. When it comes to drug related crimes, cash was the obvious draw and accounted for a majority of those types of cases. The relationship and empirical link between youth, drugs and delinquency are well established as well.
McCurley and Snyder (2008) found that higher levels of youth problem behaviors and delinquency, which included school suspensions to major theft to gun carrying, were all associated within the literature to suggest that over 70 percent of arrest cases in the greater Miami area resulted in drug use and multiple arrest of the same youth time and time again.
The research by Elliot and colleagues (1985 )suggest that drug use and delinquency seemed to reflect developmental problems or a result of a disturbed lifestyle. The research revealed the following key outcomes in this area.
• Alcohol appeared to be the cause of marijuana and other drug use since most drug use starts with the use of alcohol as mentioned earlier. Also kids who do not start using alcohol usually do not use other drugs.
• Marijuana was the precursor to multiple drug usage. In other words about 95 percent of youth who use marijuana ended up using more serious drugs with a small percentage that never used marijuana.
• Of the youths who commit felonies, they started with minor delinquent acts.
Others studies have supported these as a basis and continue to find a relationship between delinquency, drugs and crime. Generally, those kids who drank at an early age were more likely to be delinquent, engage in petty crimes and engage in violent acts. These factors may also be associated with family background, lifestyle education, lack of job skills and training, limited social skills and a pattern of engagement with the law. Therefore, alcohol would have to be the primary and most popular drug connected to criminality followed by marijuana. Alcohol has been documented in many violent crimes like robbery, homicides, assault and rape.
According to Anderson (2001) drug use is greater among female arrestees than among males. She contends that in the past ten years, the arrest rates from women drug offenders has more than tripled and these offenders are more likely to be non-violent as compared to their male counterparts. Consistent with the work of Elliot and colleagues (1985) the vast majority of female offenses had a history of alcohol and marijuana use with a good percentage reporting using heroin. She noted that men and women differ in the type of delinquent activities and criminal acts. Males are more likely to be involved with selling drugs and engage in known street crimes, women generally, shoplift and may get involved in a few property type crimes.