Adolescent Drug Use in Connecticut Private High Schools: Zero Tolerance, Contextual Peer Influence, and Deterrence Effectiveness


  •  Minjune Song    

Abstract

After the 1994 Gun-Free School Act, schools expanded the use of zero-tolerance policies with all Connecticut private high schools implementing punitive drug and alcohol policies. Based on the criminological theory of deterrence, zero-tolerance policies deliver severe and certain punishments designed to deter rational actors from engaging in problem behaviors. Existing research suggests that adolescents perceive rewards more strongly around peers and lack impulse control, raising the possibility that peer pressure may override rational deterrence in an adolescents’ decision-making process. An “immune group” of adolescents predisposed to ignore punitive deterrents may play a sizable role in inducing peer drug use. If peer influence supersedes deterrence in a significant number of cases, adolescents who are affected both by deterrents and peer pressure may be at a higher risk of following the example of the “immune group.” This study raises the question of whether Connecticut private high school students’ drug use is correlated with perceptions of punishment mandated by school policy and contextual peer influences. A questionnaire that measured students’ drug use on a scale of 1 to 4, perceived severity and likelihood of punishment from 0 to 10, and interaction with drug using peers from 0 to 10, was completed by 50 respondents. The study found no correlations between student drug use and perception of punishment likelihood and severity but found contextual peer influences to be positively associated with expected student drug use in the future. While the results of this study are limited to Connecticut private high school students, the observed tendency in students to disregard risks and pursue peer-involved drug use may be generalized in adolescents. Even in places where school discipline is not a wide issue, the impact of contextual factors like peer influence must be reconceptualized in thinking about school drug policies.



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1927-5250
  • ISSN(Online): 1927-5269
  • Started: 2012
  • Frequency: bimonthly

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