The Effectiveness of Substance Abuse Treatment with Young Offenders

1. Introduction

1. Introduction

1.1 Background

The prevention of criminal behaviour, especially in young offender populations, has become an increasingly important enterprise for criminal justice professionals. As such, considerable research attention has been devoted to identifying and documenting the factors that place an adolescent at risk for engaging in delinquent behaviour. Past research has consistently demonstrated that both static and dynamic risk factors are linked with criminal activity. Since static risk factors, such as criminal history, remain constant and do not change as a function of intervention, the primary thrust of correctional research has been in the identification of dynamic risk factors that are linked with criminal behaviour (also termed criminogenic needs). The importance of emphasizing dynamic rather than static risk factors for both risk assessment and treatment delivery has been noted by several researchers (Andrews & Bonta, 1998; Farabee, Shen, Hser, Grella, & Anglin, 2001; Gendreau, 1996), and one of the most prominent dynamic risk factors identified has been substance abuse.

Several terms have been used interchangeably in the extant literature to represent problematic substance involvement, including substance use, abuse, dependence, and addiction (Gilvarry, 2000). However, despite this range of terms, only substance abuse and dependence have officially recognized diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). A substance abuser is characterized as someone who encounters negative social and/or interpersonal consequences as a result of their substance abuse. Substance dependence is viewed as a more extreme diagnosis as an individual must exhibit signs of addiction such as increased tolerance to the substance and/or symptoms of withdrawal once use is terminated. For the purposes of the present review, both substance abusing and dependent youth will be considered.

It is also important to note at the outset that this paper will not examine sociologically-based factors that may contribute to the substance abusing behaviour of adolescents. Since the primary thrust of this review is to identify successful treatment program components for individual offenders, reviewing sociologically-based indicators would be inappropriate as it would be extremely difficult to develop a program that could satisfactorily address these factors (such as poverty) within treatment. Therefore, the review will only focus on those variables that are readily transferable to a treatment program that could be offered to a youth in need.

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