How Does Early Adulthood Arrest Alter Substance use Behavior? Are There Differential Effects by Race/Ethnicity and Gender?

  • Connie Hassett-WalkerEmail author
  • Katrina Walsemann
  • Bethany Bell
  • Calley Fisk
  • Mark Shadden
  • Weidan Zhou



Much criminal justice research has ignored racial/ethnic and gender differences in substance use subsequent to criminal justice involvement. This paper investigated how early adulthood arrest (i.e., 18 to 21 years of age) influences individuals’ subsequent transitions from non-substance use to substance use and substance use to non-substance use through age 30. We also consider if these relationships differ by race/ethnicity and gender. Processes proscribed by labeling theory subsequent to getting arrested are considered.


We analyzed 15 waves of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. Multinomial logistic regressions were performed using Stata software version 14.


We found racial/ethnic differences in the effect of arrest on subsequent substance use, particularly marijuana. Being arrested was associated with shifting non-binge drinkers and non-marijuana users into binge drinking and marijuana use, as well as shifting binge drinkers and marijuana users into non-use. This pattern was most evident among White and Black men. For Black men, the association between arrest and both becoming a binge drinker and becoming a non-binge drinker was experienced most strongly during their early twenties. Women’s patterns in substance use transitions following an arrest were less clear than for the men.


Some results, particularly transitioning into marijuana use, offer qualified support for processes proscribed through labeling theory. Findings that arrest shifts individuals into non-marijuana use suggest that factors not accounted for by labeling theory—arrest serving as a teachable moment for those using substances—may be at play.


Life course Labeling Substance use Arrest Race Ethnicity Gender 



The study was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R15DA032875-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The authors acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Gilbert Gee, Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California at Los Angeles, in writing this manuscript. The authors also acknowledge Dr. Jeffrey Toney, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Kean University, for his instrumental support in the completion of this study. Finally, Susan Gannon, the director of Kean University’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, offered much logistical support for the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeKean UniversityUnionUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health Promotion, Education and BehaviorUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.College of Social Work, Hamilton CollegeUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  4. 4.Sloan CollegeUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  5. 5.Elite Research LLCIrvingUSA

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