Knowing the elements that influence a teenager to abuse drugs and alcohol provides an advantage to parents and other concerned individuals in preventing this dangerous behavior. A recently published study by cross-disciplinary researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas uncovered a surprising link between teen substance abuse and illegal activity by a family member.

The subjects of the study were 1,354 youths between the ages of 14 and 17. Members of this predominantly male group had been found guilty of serious and often violent crimes. Researchers began by evaluating a number of factors, including education, intelligence, family arrest history, peers and local neighborhood, for each subject.

As the researchers followed up with the subjects over a seven-year period, they anticipated that neighborhood issues like gangs and weapons would have the greatest impact. Instead, they found that family arrests and delinquent peers were the significant indicators, along with lack of impulse control.

Despite the fact that previous studies demonstrated lower cognitive abilities in addicts, IQ and other neuropsychological factors proved to be a less prominent indicator. UT Dallas associate professor Dr. Francesca Filbey, one of the study’s authors, said this suggests that reduced cognition is an effect of prolonged substance abuse rather than a cause.

Filbey’s co-author, criminology professor Dr. Alex Piquero, stated that “increasing resistance to peer antisocial behavior” should be a major component of substance abuse prevention programs for teens. He also stressed the importance of teaching effective ways to improve self-control.

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