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Middle childhood vulnerability to drugs and alcohol

Rob Ewin (University of Cumbria, Carlisle, UK and Cumbria Police, Carlisle, UK)
Abi Reed (Cumbria County Council, Carlisle, UK)
Lewis Powell (Cumbria Police, Carlisle, UK)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 25 April 2020

Issue publication date: 21 May 2020




There are identified problems facing law enforcement in the correct approach to childhood drug and alcohol use at street level which can cause aggression, developmental, psychological problems and family conflict (Maher and Dixon, 1999). Childhood exposure to drugs and alcohol can encourage criminal activity, anti-social conduct and increased child-to-parent conflict (Brook et al., 1992; Reinherz et al., 2000; Coogan, 2011; McElhone, 2017).


The purpose of this study is to explore middle-childhood (11-15 years) experiences of drugs and alcohol through a survey to determine the earliest opportunity for the involvement of services based on the experiences of children.


The key findings are alcohol consumption in middle childhood is supported by parental alcohol provision; those in middle childhood are most likely to consume alcohol at home and drugs at street level (any place away from home including school, young clubs, open public space and parks); children in middle childhood use mainly cannabis to experience euphoria, minimize childhood problems and to fulfill acquisitive desire; and late childhood shows movement away from street-level drug use to drug use in private spaces with friends and increased levels of experiential or social drinking, within spaces shared by larger social groups.

Practical implications

The authors propose that a health-orientated early help model in middle childhood should be adopted, with support such as community- and school-based child and parental drug education; wider information sharing between schools, policing and health authorities at an early stage to support a contextual safeguarding approach; and recognition and recording practices around middle childhood which is an acute phase for children to become involved in drug and alcohol consumption.


Children’s drug use in middle childhood is often not recorded, and the problem can be associated with simple ill-parenting approaches. The authors believe that little was known about the spaces and occurrence of drug and alcohol use in middle childhood.



Ewin, R., Reed, A. and Powell, L. (2020), "Middle childhood vulnerability to drugs and alcohol", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 169-182.



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