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Is the Association Between Alcohol Use and Delinquency Causal or Spurious?

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 46 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2008 Pages: 785-808
Richard Felson; Jukka Savolainen; Mikko Aaltonen; Heta Moustgaard
Date Published
August 2008
24 pages
The study examined the association between alcohol use and delinquent behavior in Finland.
For each type of offense, results found a substantial relationship between drinking and sober delinquency, which suggested a good deal of spuriousness. For crimes of petty theft, such as shoplifting and stealing from home, the relationship between drinking and sober delinquency was just as strong as the total relationship, which suggested that the relationship was almost completely spurious. For violence, vandalism, car theft, and graffiti writing, the alcohol-sober delinquency relationship was weaker, which suggested that alcohol had a causal effect on these offenses. The study attempted to isolate the effects of alcohol on different types of delinquent behavior by identifying the spurious portion of the relationship. Using data on adolescents from Finland, the work compared the relationship between drinking and delinquent behavior while sober to the total relationship between drinking and delinquent behavior, sober or not. Data were derived from the Finnish Self-Reported Delinquency Study, a national survey of adolescents living in Finland that was conducted in 2004. The sample included 5,124 students from 55 municipal schools selected by a randomized cluster procedure. The target population of the study was ninth grade students in their final year of the compulsory school system, age 15 and 16, with a survey response rate of 85 percent. Tables, figure, and references