Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Criminal Justice (M.S.)

Degree Program

School of Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Dr. Christopher Kierkus

Second Advisor

Dr. Brian Johnson

Third Advisor

Dr. Patrick Gerkin


This study determines whether family structure or transitions alone influence adolescent use of pain killers, as previous studies in delinquency and substance use would suggest, or if there are potentially mediating factors. The theories of general strain and social control are drawn upon to create mediating variables of abuse and failing grade (general strain) as well as attachment and school suspension (social control). The study will use data from the National Survey of Adolescents (1995).

Binary logistic regression was used to estimate if family structure leads to increased odds of being abused, having a failing grade, and being suspended from school. Youth from a “traditional” family structure received a protective benefit over all other family structures. The same results were found for youth who had experienced the divorce or separation of parents as well as the addition of a new stepparent.

Hierarchical logistic regression determined whether standard demographic variables, or those listed above that are based upon general strain and social control, mediate the effect of family structure and transitions on adolescent pain killer use. While initially it appeared as though youth from cohabiting homes and those who experienced parents divorcing or separating were significant predictors of adolescent pain killer use, once all other variables were controlled for, the experiences of being abused or suspended school, as well as age, were the only statistically significant indicators for youth using pain killers. This suggests that concepts from general strain and social control theory can help explain why family structure and change may be related to pain killer abuse. The implications and limitations of the findings are discussed.