Extending the “Worst of Both Worlds” hypothesis to the developmental antecedents of crime and substance use: school bullying and alcohol experimentation


The “Worst of Both Worlds” (WBW) hypothesis holds that individuals who both commit crime and misuse drugs are at significantly greater risk for future crime and drug problems than individuals who only commit crime or only misuse drugs. In the current investigation, two developmental antecedents of crime and substance use—school bullying and alcohol experimentation—were used to form four WBW conditions (no bullying or alcohol experimentation, alcohol experimentation without bullying, bullying without alcohol experimentation, and bullying with alcohol experimentation). Analyzing data from 3837 (1951 boys, 1886 girls) early adolescents from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (mean age = 12.4 years at baseline), it was noted that children who engaged in bullying and had experimented with alcohol by age 12/13 were significantly more likely to increase their involvement in delinquency and substance use by age 16/17 compared to children who did not engage in bullying and had not experimented with alcohol, children who bullied but had not experimented with alcohol, and children who experimented with alcohol but had not bullied. These results not only support the WBW hypothesis, they also suggest that the effect may have developmental origins beyond similarities in externalizing symptomatology.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Aas H, Klepp K-I, Laberg JC, Aarø LE (1995) Predicting adolescents’ intentions to drink alcohol: outcome expectancies and self-efficacy. J Stud Alcohol 56:293–299

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Allison PD (2002) Missing data. Sage, Thousand Oaks

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Bennett T, Holloway K (2009) The causal connection between drug misuse and crime. British Journal of Criminology 49:513–531

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Australian Institute of Family Studies (2018) Longitudinal study of Australian Children Data user guide—December 2018. Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Bonta J, Andrews D (2017) The psychology of criminal conduct, 6th edn. Routledge, New York

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Botvin GJ, Griffin KW (2005) Prevention science, drug abuse prevention, and life skills training: comments on the state of the science. J Exp Criminol 1:63–78

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Botvin GJ, Griffin KW (2007) School-based programmes to prevent alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Int Rev Psychiatry 19:607–615

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Clark DB, Cornelius JR, Kirisci L, Tarter RE (2005) Childhood risk categories for adolescent substance involvement: a general liability typology. Drug Alcohol Depend 77:13–21

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Chung T, Pedersen SL, Kim KH, Hipwell AE, Stepp SD (2014) Racial differences in type of alcohol beverage consumed during adolescence in the Pittsburgh Girls Study. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 38:285–293

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Cohen J (1969) Statistical power analysis for the behavioural sciences. Academic Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    DeLisi M, Vaughn MG, Salas-Wright CP, Jennings WG (2015) Drugged and dangerous: prevalence and variants of substance use comorbidity among seriously violent offenders in the United States. J Drug Issues 45:232–248

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Goldstein P (1985) The drugs/violence nexus: A tripartite conceptual framework. Journal of Drug Issues 15:493–506

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Hammersley R (2008) Drugs and crime. Polity Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Henggeler SW, Smith LA, Melton GB (1992) Multisystemic therapy with violent and chronic juvenile offenders and their families: the role of treatment fidelity in successful dissemination. J Consult Clin Psychol 60:953–961

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Hicks BM, Krueger RF, Iacono WG, McGue M, Patrick CJ (2004) Family transmission and heritability of external disorders: a twin-family study. Arch Gen Psychiatry 61:922–928

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Huizinga D, Elliott DS (1986) Reassessing the reliability and validity of self-report delinquency measures. J Quant Criminol 2:293–327

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    IBM (2019) IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows (Version 26.0). IBM Corp, New York

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Jessor R, Donovan JE, Costa FM (1991) Beyond adolescence: problem behavior and young adult development. Cambridge University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Jessor R, Jessor SL (1977) Problem behavior and psychosocial development: a longitudinal study of youth. Academic Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Jones SE, Miller JD, Lynam DR (2011) Personality, antisocial behavior, and aggression: a meta-analytic review. J Crim Justice 39:329–337

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Karberg JC, James DJ (2005) Substance dependence, abuse, and treatment of jail inmates, 2002. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (NCJ 209588). Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC

  22. 22.

    Krueger RF, Hicks BM, Patrick CJ, Carlson SR, Iacono WG, McGue M (2002) Etiologic connections among substance dependence, antisocial behavior, and personality: modeling the externalizing spectrum. J Abnorm Psychol 111:411–424

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Lee Y, Liu X, Watson MW (2016) The timing effect of bullying in childhood and adolescence on developmental trajectories of externalizing behaviors. J Interpers Violence 31:2775–2800

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Leykin Y, DeRubeis RJ (2009) Allegiance in psychotherapy outcome research: separating association from bias. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 16:54–65

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Lowenkamp CT, Latessa E, Holsinger A (2006) The risk principle in action: what we have learned from 13,676 offenders and 97 correctional programs. Crime Delinq 52:1–17

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Lynskey MT, Agrawal A, Heath AC (2010) Genetically informative research on adolescent substance use: methods, findings, and challenges. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 49:1202–1214

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Ross RR, Fabiano EA, Ewles CD (1988) Reasoning and rehabilitation. Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol 32:29–35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Ruiz MA, Pincus AL, Schinka JA (2008) Externalizing pathology and the five-factor model: a meta-analysis of personality traits associated with antisocial personality disorder, substance use disorder, and their co-occurrence. J Pers Disord 22:365–388

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2012) Screening and assessing adolescents for substance use disorders (SMA 12-4078). SAMHSA, Rockville

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Terracciano A, Löckenhoff CE, Crum RM, Bienvenu J, Costa PT (2008) Five-factor model personality profiles of drug users. BMC Psychiatry 8:22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Tong LSJ, Farrington DP (2008) Effectiveness of reasoning and rehabilitation in reducing reoffending. Psicothema 20:20–28

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Tripodi SJ, Bender K (2011) Substance abuse treatment for juvenile offenders: a review of quasi-experimental and experimental research. J Crim Justice 39:246–252

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Ttofi MM, Farrington DP, Lösel F, Loeber R (2011) The predictive efficacy of school bullying versus later offending: a systematic/meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies. Crim Behav Ment Health 21:80–89

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    van der Stouwe T, Asscher JJ, Stams GJJM, Deković M, van der Laan PH (2014) The effectiveness of multisystemic therapy (MST): a meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev 34:468–481

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Vaughn MG, Salas-Wright CP, DeLisi M, Shook JJ, Terzis L (2015) A typology of drug selling among young adults in the United States. Subst Use Misuse 50:403–413

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Verone E, Jaudani S, Sprague J (2011) Comparing factor structures of adolescent psychopathology. Psychol Assess 23:545–551

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Walters GD (2014) Crime and substance misuse in adjudicated delinquent youth: the worst of both worlds. Law Hum Behav 38:139–150

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Walters GD (2015) Criminal and substance involvement from adolescence to adulthood: precursors, mediators, and long-term effects. Justice Q 32:729–747

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Walters GD (2016) Age of crime/substance onset and crime/drug versatility as dimensions of the “worst of both worlds” effect. Crim Justice Policy Rev 27:668–683

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Walters GD (2016) Breaking the cycle demonstration project: using a quasi-experimental analysis to test the “worst of both worlds” hypothesis and risk principle. J Exp Criminol 12:127–141

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Walters GD, Espelage DL (2019) Bullying perpetration and subsequent delinquency: a regression-based analysis of early adolescent schoolchildren. J Early Adolesc 39:669–688

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Glenn D. Walters.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The author has no conflicts of interest to declare.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Walters, G.D. Extending the “Worst of Both Worlds” hypothesis to the developmental antecedents of crime and substance use: school bullying and alcohol experimentation. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-021-01771-0

Download citation


  • Worst of Both Worlds
  • Delinquency
  • Substance use
  • Bullying
  • Alcohol experimentation