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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008 May 1;95(1-2):1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2007.11.019. Epub 2008 Jan 31.

Impacts of age of onset of substance use disorders on risk of adult incarceration among disadvantaged urban youth: a propensity score matching approach.

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  • 1University of Maryland School of Medicine, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.



Age of onset of substance use disorders in adolescence and early adulthood could be associated with higher rates of adult criminal incarceration in the U.S., but evidence of these associations is scarce.


Propensity score matching was used to estimate the association between adolescent-onset substance use disorders and the rate of incarceration, as well as incarceration costs and self-reported criminal arrests and convictions, of young men predominantly from African American, lower income, urban households. Age of onset was differentiated by whether onset of the first disorder occurred by age 16.


Onset of a substance use disorder by age 16, but not later onset, was associated with a fourfold greater risk of adult incarceration for substance related offenses as compared to no disorder (0.35 vs. 0.09, P=0.044). Onset by age 16 and later onset were both positively associated with incarceration costs and risk of arrest and conviction, though associations with crime outcomes were more consistent with respect to onset by age 16. Results were robust to propensity score adjustment for observable predictors of substance use in adolescence and involvement in crime as an adult.


Among young men in this high risk minority sample, having a substance use disorder by age 16 was associated with higher risk of incarceration for substance related offenses in early adulthood and with more extensive criminal justice system involvement as compared to having no disorder or having a disorder beginning at a later age.

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