Testing Relationships Between Exposure to Violence and Substance Use: Comparing Cognitive and Mental Health Mediation and Integrating Propensity Score Matching

Published date01 October 2022
Date01 October 2022
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Testing Relationships
Between Exposure to
Violence and Substance
Use: Comparing
Cognitive and Mental
Health Mediation and
Integrating Propensity
Score Matching
Thomas W. Wojciechowski1
Exposure to violence has been identified as a robust risk factor for substance
use. While criminological theories have also been demonstrated to be relevant
for predicting this behaviour, there is limited research that compares the role
that exposure to violence plays in this regard across multiple theories. There
have also been issues in not accounting for pre-existing levels of mediators in
specifying mechanisms underpinning these relationships. This study examines
the mediating roles of cognitive and mental health variables from the dual sys-
tems model and general strain theory for explaining the exposure to violence–
substance use relationship. The first four waves of the Pathways to Desistance
data were analysed. Generalized structural equation modelling (GSEM) was used
to test for direct and indirect effects. Propensity score matching was used to
address concerns that pre-existing levels of cognitive and mental health variables
may be driving mediation effects. Results indicated that exposure to violence at
wave 2 was associated with increased heavy-episodic drinking and marijuana use
at wave 4. Sensation-seeking at wave 3 significantly mediated both of these rela-
tionships. No other significant mediation effects were observed. Results indicate
that message-framing interventions may be useful for reducing drives towards
substance use behaviours stemming from violence exposure.
Dual systems model, exposure to violence, general strain theory, mediation,
substance use
Original Article
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
5(2) 181–201, 2022
2022 Rajiv Gandhi National
University of Law
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/25166069221139659
1 School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, United States
Corresponding author:
Thomas W. Wojciechowski, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, 655 Auditorium
Road, East Lansing, MI 48824, United States.
E-mail: wojcie42@msu.edu
182 Journal of Victimology and Victim Justice 5(2)
Exposure to violence has been identified as a robust risk factor for substance use.2,3,4
This relationship may be particularly relevant for justice-involved youth (JIY), a
population of adolescents who are at elevated risk for experiencing this form of
traumatic stress and for reporting engagement in substance use.5,6 As such, this
population may be of particular interest to public health and criminal justice
professionals focused on reducing the overall impact that substance use behaviours
have on key physical health conditions.7,8,9 While a great deal of research has focu-
sed on understanding this relationship, there remain gaps in our understanding of
mechanisms linking exposure to violence to substance use behaviours among this
population. Mental health and cognitive dysfunction are two domains that may be
negatively impacted by exposure to violence and such dysfunction in these domains
may also increase risk for substance use.2,10,11,12 As such, it makes sense to examine
mental health and cognitive mechanisms underlying this relationship. While some
research has examined these mechanisms),2,13,14 there remain issues with establishing
causal validity in these relationships and also a dearth of research which has
compared the relative importance of these mechanisms among a high-risk population
like JIY. The present study sought to address these gaps in the literature by taking a
propensity score matching approach to addressing validity issues to ensure that
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