Development of Substance Dependence in Two Delinquency Subgroups and Nondelinquents from a Male Twin Sample

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Objective: The effect of delinquency subtype on the development of substance dependence symptoms was examined. It was proposed that early-onset delinquents possess characteristics that increase their likelihood of developing substance dependence problems earlier and more rapidly than late-onset delinquents and nondelinquents. Method: The development of alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis dependence symptoms (DSM-III-R) was examined over a 6-year period of adolescence (age 11-17) among 36 early-onset delinquent, 86 late-onset delinquent, and 25 nondelinquent boys from a large epidemiological twin sample. Multilevel/random coefficients models were used to compare groups on the rate of growth in number of symptoms over time. Results: As expected, early-onset delinquents showed an earlier onset and a faster rate of increase in the number of cannabis and nicotine dependence symptoms than late-onset delinquents and controls. Both delinquent groups had a more rapid increase in alcohol dependence symptoms than controls. Conclusions: The data showed that early-onset delinquency is associated with earlier onset of substance use disorder symptoms and more rapid acceleration of problems with drugs than late-onset delinquency. Treatments for boys with early-onset delinquency should account for their increased risk for drug use problems in adolescence and the potential effects of those problems on the course of antisocial behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)386-393
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article was supported in part by NIH grant DA05147 and NIH Traineeship MH 17069 . An earlier version of this article was submitted to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Minnesota in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Adolescents
  • Early-onset delinquency
  • Substance use disorders


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