Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Sociology

Content Description

1 online resource (iv, 136 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Steven Messner

Committee Members

Joanne Kaufman, Jiang Yu


abuse, Adolescent maltreatment, crime, Delinquency, Self-Efficacy, substance use, Teenagers, Substance abuse, Self-efficacy, Juvenile delinquency, Stress (Psychology), Crime

Subject Categories

Criminology | Sociology


The relationship between adolescent maltreatment and delinquency has been of growing interest to social control, social learning, strain, and family-oriented theorist since the 1980’s. While ‘social control’, ‘social learning’, and ‘traditional strain’ theories dominated early delinquency research literature surrounding the association, the past few decades have experienced a shift from these sociological theories to those more social-psychological in nature, lending much support, credibility, and acceptance of Agnew’s General Strain Theory (GST). GST offers a theoretical framework for understanding micro-level and macro level factors that influence the likelihood of delinquency. In short, GST contends some individuals engage in criminal and deviant behavior to cope with their negative emotions caused by the experience of strain (events, conditions, or negative or adverse relations with others). Agnew (2001, 2013) argues victimization, especially child abuse and neglect, are one of the most consequential types of strain. While it is argued the strain-delinquency relationship can be conditioned by any number of factors that either enhances or diminishes delinquency as a response to strain, findings remain inconsistent and inconclusive. The link between maltreatment and delinquency (i.e., substance use and criminal involvement) has been well-established, however, there still exists a considerable gap in the literature across fields. Limitations of prior research range from lack of theoretical underpinnings in health research, composite measures of strain and/or the lack of focus on maltreatment solely as strain in the criminological literature to underexplored clinical sub-samples of youth and mixed findings related to the conditioning effects of certain coping resources. This dissertation research presents an empirical examination of the underexplored link between maltreatment, self-efficacy, and substance use, using two measures of strain and assesses the utility of GST on a sample of clinical youth. Specifically, this research tests the direct effects of the two indicators of strain on two measures of substance use, along with the direct effect of self-efficacy on substance use, and additionally tests the extent to which baseline levels of self-efficacy attenuate the effect of maltreatment on subsequent adolescent substance use. This dissertation tests the utilization of GST using a unique longitudinal dataset: The Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN) National Dataset. The GAIN is a standardized biopsychosocial clinical client data assessment tool utilized at treatment intake (GAIN-Initial) to characterize baseline and pretreatment characteristics and at the three-month follow-up. This study found having a history of adolescent maltreatment and cumulative experiences of adolescent maltreatment are risk factors of the indicator of delinquency and self-efficacy had significant negative effects on both indicators of delinquency for both measures of strain. Self-efficacy did not moderate the effect between any of the indicators of strain and the indicators of delinquency in this study. Findings from focusing on this subset of youth may help minimize the influence of maltreatment on substance use and provide a missing theoretical link in the public health, psychology, and child- maltreatment domains. Moreover, findings may inform interventions and policies aimed at reducing delinquent behaviors.

Included in

Criminology Commons