Study: Substance Use Disorder a Predictor of Violent Behavior

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Meet Linda A. Teplin, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University and primary investigator of the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a large-scale, longitudinal study of the mental health needs of youth after they leave detention.

Widely quoted and respected in the field of juvenile justice, Teplin has led the project through nearly two decades of tracking and interviewing kids after they leave detention into adulthood.

Teplin’s work, referred to in the JJIE and in the Resource Hub, is a consistent source of meaningful and valuable data about the mental health needs of delinquent youth to juvenile justice specialists around the nation.

Her most recent work, written with Katherine Elkington, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, and colleagues in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, focuses on psychiatric disorders as a predictor of future violence.

The research found no connection to increased violence based on a person’s mental health condition. When substance abuse and dependence were included, however, a different picture emerged.

hub_arrow_2-01As Teplin puts it, many kids use drugs; some have a drug use disorder, meaning abuse or dependence. Drugs include marijuana as well as so-called “hard drugs” such as opiates, amphetamines and cocaine.

And substance use disorder is a significant predictor of subsequent violent behavior. Boys with a substance use disorder, her study concludes, are more than three times more likely to engage in subsequent violence.

What causes this relationship? Subtleties abound, including kids being involved in the drug economy — a dangerous place to be says Teplin.

Still, the conclusions are clear and the takeaway even more so: Mental disorders, other than substance use or dependence, do not predict subsequent violence. Reducing substance abuse and dependency can reduce violence. Therefore, preventative intervention and treatment for substance use disorders are key in reducing violence.

Teplin shared all of this with JJIE and more when we caught up with her at her home in Chicago a few days ago to talk about the article.

This is part of a year of coverage around the subject of young people and substance abuse, including prevention, early intervention and recovery. It comes thanks to a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

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