Racial and ethnic trends in illicit drug use and binge drinking among adolescent and young adult offenders in the United States

Michael George Vaughn, Christopher P. Salas-Wright, David Cordova, Erik J. Nelson, Lisa Jaegers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: One of the shortcomings of survey trend data on substance use among racial and ethnic groups is not accounting for any criminal history effects. We address this missing piece by examining trends in illicit substance use and binge drinking among those arrested and booked for a crime. Methods: Survey data collected between 2002 and 2013 as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Trend analyses were restricted to non-Hispanic whites, African-Americans, and Hispanic adolescents (ages 12–17) and young adults in the sample (ages 18–25) who report being arrested and booked for a crime. Results: Findings reveal a severity-based gradient in which the prevalence of illicit drug use is lowest among African-Americans, incrementally higher among Hispanics, and highest among non-Hispanic whites. This gradient, observable among both developmental subgroups, is particularly evident among young adult offenders. Discussion: While drug-related crimes are one of several fuels of incarceration, the racial and ethnic disparity in use does not necessarily indicate a causal connection with respect to race and crime, as many other factors could be driving the increased prevalence of crime among non-white populations such as possessing a greater number of risk factors for offending other than substance use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-80
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Criminal Justice
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Nov 1


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law

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