Youth struggle with alcohol, drugs after detention

NORTHWESTERN (US) — Five years after leaving juvenile detention more than 45 percent of males and nearly 30 percent of females have one or more psychiatric disorders, a recent study shows.

“Although prevalence rates dropped over time, some disorders were three times more prevalent than in the general population,” says Linda A. Teplin, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.


As reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the Northwestern Juvenile Project studied 1,829 people (1,172 males and 657 females) ages 10 to 18 years when they were first interviewed at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago. Participants were re-interviewed as many as four times and up to five years later. Researchers say this is the first longitudinal study to track psychiatric disorders in youth after they leave detention.

Substance use disorders (alcohol and illicit drugs) are the most prevalent and persistent psychiatric disorder—and males are two to three times more likely to have drug or alcohol use disorders than females.

“These findings demonstrate the need for special programs—especially for substance use disorders—not only while these kids are in corrections but also when they return to the community,” Teplin says.

“People think these kids are locked up forever, but the average stay is only two weeks. Obviously, it’s better to provide community services than to build correctional facilities. Otherwise, the lack of services perpetuates the revolving door between the community and corrections.”

Nationwide, the need for substance abuse treatment far exceeds availability. Approximately half of youths in juvenile facilities and three-quarters of youths in adult jails and prisons who need treatment for substance abuse don’t receive it.

Substance use disorder is more common in non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics than African Americans, the study shows. The findings add to the growing debate about how the “war on drugs” has affected the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans, Teplin says.

“Non-Hispanic whites had the highest rates of substance use disorders and dependence, followed by Hispanics, then African Americans with the lowest rates. This is exactly the opposite of the patterns of incarceration.”

In 2010, African-American males were incarcerated at seven times and Hispanic males at nearly three times the rate of whites.

Substance use disorders drop more dramatically for girls than boys as they age, the study shows. “We’ve done a great job developing special programs for delinquent girls,” Teplin says. “Now we need to focus on boys.”

Males comprise 85 percent of the youths in correctional facilities and 70 percent of juvenile arrests.

Many of the youths in detention “aren’t bad kids, they’re just poor and may not receive needed services,” Teplin says. “Wealthier parents may be able to afford drug treatment for their kids. But poor kids may instead end up in the juvenile justice system. It’s often socioeconomic disadvantage that lands these kids in detention.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health supported the work.

Source: Northwestern University