The Relationship Between Peer Delinquency and Juvenile Alcohol Dependence

Evidence based addiction treatment takes into consideration the trend between peer delinquency and alcohol consumption. However, there may be underlying issues present with adolescents that correlate with their alcohol consumption and aggressive behavior. Thus, it is imperative that adolescents receive individualized treatment plans during alcohol treatment so that the individual is encouraged to find motivations that are deeper than the addiction. An individualized self- empowering treatment plan enables adolescents to focus primarily on underlying issues that may have been the cause of their drinking and/or engaging in aggressive behavior.

Previous research studies have found associations between impulsivity and alcohol consumption, between alcohol expectancies and drinking behavior, and between drinking and aggressive behavior. The Acquired Preparedness Model (APM) integrates genetic influences as well as social learning to describe impulsivity as a major disposition for delinquent behavior. The APM also suggests that impulsivity may influence positive expectancies for alcohol and thus disinhibit drinking behavior. Further, evidence suggests that disinhibited adolescents are more likely to associate with delinquent and substance abusing individuals. Peer delinquency may predict adolescent drinking behavior and should be considered in alcohol treatment and prevention programs for adolescents. Researchers at Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University in Greifswald, Germany, hypothesized that adolescent delinquency is related to both peer delinquency and quantity/frequency of alcohol consumed, and that peer delinquency mediates the association between aggression and drinking (Barnow et. al., 2004).

The researchers recruited 147 adolescents around the age of 15. Participants were interviewed about drinking behavior, and they answered self-rating questionnaires about their peers. Results were in line with predictions of the Acquired Preparedness Model: Behavior problems were found to be related to quantity/frequency of alcohol consumption, and this relationship was mediated by alcohol expectancies. Further, the researchers found positive correlations between drinking behavior and peer delinquency and between aggression/delinquency and alcohol expectancies. Additionally, the association between behavior problems and drinking decreased drastically when researchers accounted for peer delinquency. After accounting for age, sex, family history, and aggression of respondents, an analysis showed that both alcohol expectancy and peer delinquency predicted alcohol use of adolescents at the one-year follow-up point.

“The APM proceeds from the premise that impulsive children tend to develop positive alcohol expectancies when alcohol is consumed by a family member, due to their sensitivity to reward cues,” the authors explain. “Subsequently, these positive alcohol expectancies serve as a significant predictor of high alcohol consumption and alcohol problems in adolescence. However, the APM does not account for findings that show that impulsive children tend to be attracted more often to delinquent peer groups in which substance use is prevalent, and that membership in substance using peer groups is associated with both higher quantity of alcohol consumption and alcohol problems. Hence, it is reasonable to assume that membership in a delinquent substance-using peer group may mediate the relationship between impulsive behavior and drinking problems.”

Indeed, the researchers found that both alcohol expectancies and peer delinquency predict adolescent drinking behavior. Therefore, alcohol treatment and prevention programs for adolescents should address the influence of peer delinquency.

Barnow S, Schultz G, Lucht M, Ulrich I, Preuss U-W, Freyberger H-J. Do alcohol expectancies and peer delinquency/substance use mediate the relationship between impulsivity and drinking behaviour in adolescence? Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2004; 39(3): 213-219.