Gender differences in behavioral and psychosocial correlates of substance abuse among adolescents in residential treament

Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Welfare

First Advisor's Name

Martin Sundel

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Andres Gil

Third Advisor's Name

Karen Sowers-Hoag

Date of Defense



This dissertation reports the results of a study that examined differences between genders in a sample of adolescents from a residential substance abuse treatment facility. The sample included 72 males and 65 females, ages 12 through 17. The data were archival, having been originally collected for a study of elopement from treatment. The current study included 23 variables. The variables were from multiple dimensions, including socioeconomic, legal, school, family, substance abuse, psychological, social support, and treatment histories. Collectively, they provided information about problem behaviors and psychosocial problems that are correlates of adolescent substance abuse. The study hypothesized that these problem behaviors and psychosocial problems exist in different patterns and combinations between genders. Further, it expected that these patterns and combinations would constitute profiles important for treatment. K-means cluster analysis identified differential profiles between genders in all three areas: problem behaviors, psychosocial problems, and treatment profiles. In the dimension of problem behaviors, the predominantly female group was characterized as suicidal and destructive, while the predominantly male group was identified as aggressive and low achieving. In the dimension of psychosocial problems, the predominantly female group was characterized as abused depressives, while the male group was identified as asocial, low problem severity. A third group, neither predominantly female or male, was characterized as social, high problem severity. When these dimensions were combined to form treatment profiles, the predominantly female group was characterized as abused, self-harmful, and social, and the male group was identified as aggressive, destructive, low achieving, and asocial. Finally, logistic regression and discriminant analysis were used to determine whether a history of sexual and physical abuse impacted problem behavior differentially between genders. Sexual abuse had a substantially greater influence in producing self-mutilating and suicidal behavior among females than among males. Additionally, a model including sexual abuse, physical abuse, low family support, and low support from friends showed a moderate capacity to predict unusual harmful behavior (fire-starting and cruelty to animals) among males. Implications for social work practice, social work research, and systems science are discussed.



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