Background and Objectives
Substance use behaviors have been identified as a risk factor that places juveniles at greater risk for engaging in delinquent behaviors and continual contact with the juvenile justice system. Currently, there is lack of research that explores comorbid factors associated with substance use, such as post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, that could help identify youth who are at greatest risk. The aim of the present study was to examine if PTSD symptomology moderated the relationship between substance use disorder (SUD) symptoms and externalizing behaviors and commission of a violent crime; hypothesizing that risk would be heightened among youth with elevated SUD and PTSD symptomology compared to those with elevated SUD symptoms but lower PTSD symptoms.
The study included 194 predominantly male (78.4%), non‐White (74.2%) juvenile justice youth between the ages of 9–18 (M = 15.36). Youth provided responses to assess PTSD symptoms, SUD symptoms, and externalizing behaviors. Commission of a violent crime was based on parole officer report.
Findings indicated that SUD symptomology was associated with greater externalizing behaviors at high levels of PTSD symptomology. At low levels of PTSD symptomology, SUD symptoms were inversely associated with externalizing behaviors. An interactive relationship was not observed for commission of violent crimes.
Findings suggest that the association between SUD symptoms and externalizing behaviors among juvenile offenders may be best explained by the presence of PTSD symptomology.
Addressing PTSD rather than SUD symptoms may be a better target for reducing risk for externalizing behaviors among this population of youth.