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The role of critical moments in young offenders’ drug-using trajectories

Franca Beccaria (Eclectica, Institute for Research and Training, Turin, Italy)
Sara Rolando (Eclectica, Institute for Research and Training, Turin, Italy)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 18 June 2019

Issue publication date: 8 August 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between drug use and offending by using the concept of critical moments as an analytical tool.


In total, 41 semi-structured individual interviews with young people (15–25 years) using drugs and in touch with the criminal justice system (CJS) were conducted.


Analysing critical moments in young people’s drug use contributes to explaining some of the multiple, possible links between drug use and offending. Institutional factors emerged as important, as well as social and economic inequality. This was in particular clear when comparing students’ and immigrants’ trajectories.

Research limitations/implications

Limitations are due to the difficulties in getting access to prisoners and young people in touch with the CJS and the possibility to meet them only once with time limits due to the setting.

Practical implications

Prevention intervention addressed to this target group could take young people’s social contexts and everyday life situation into consideration.

Social implications

To decrease both offending and drug use, structural measures aimed at decreasing social inequalities would be more effective than punishment.


The study proposes a practical way to analyse narratives of young people who have experienced both drug use and offending and to show the importance of socially structured patterns without reducing the complexity of the topic.



Beccaria, F. and Rolando, S. (2019), "The role of critical moments in young offenders’ drug-using trajectories", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 197-207.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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