1. Which paper do you use for this assignment (the title of the study)? 2. What are the research hypotheses of the study? 3. Why is this study important (the purpose of the study)? 4. What are the dependent variable(s) and the independent variable(s) of the study; particularly, what are the level of measurement of those variables? 5. In the result section of bivariate statistics (correlation), select one sentence (e.g., peers’ delinquencies are positively related to juveniles’ delinquencies) and interpret what it means.
Underage Drinking in America: An Explanation
through the Lens of the General Theory of Crime
Hyunin Baek & Selye Lee
To cite this article: Hyunin Baek & Selye Lee (2018): Underage Drinking in America: An
Explanation through the Lens of the General Theory of Crime, Deviant Behavior, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/01639625.2018.1519132
Published online: 05 Nov 2018.
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Underage Drinking in America: An Explanation through the Lens
of the General Theory of Crime
Hyunin Baeka and Selye Leeb
aNew Mexico State University, Las Cruces, USA; bWest Liberty University, Wheeling, USA
Despite the high rate of drinking among adolescents and its negative consequences,
studies regarding causality of drinking behaviors have been underexamined.
Regarding causal factors of underage drinking, Gottfredson and
Hirschi’s general theory of crime provided a useful theoretical frame. Using the
data set of “Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth,” this
study conducted multiple regression analyses with the selected sample data set
of 4,626. The results indicated that adolescents with a lower self-control were
more likely to drink than those with a high self-control. Furthermore, opportunity
(i.e., accessibility of alcohol and drinking peers) was a strong predictor of underage
drinking. Particularly, this study found a significant effect of the interaction
between low self-control and opportunity on drinking among American youth.
Thus, this study strongly supports the general theory of crime as well as provides
an approach to reduce underage drinking in America.
Received 1 July 2018
Accepted 13 August 2018
Alcohol consumption is one of the primary causes for intentional and unintentional harm and
injuries to individuals other than the consumer, as well as interpersonal violence, family deprivation,
suicide, manslaughter, and wrongdoing (Anderson, Chisholm, and Fuhr 2009). Studies have identified
numerous negative impacts of alcohol consumption such as behavioral consequences and poor
bodily health (Cooper 2002; Yamagata et al. 2007). For example, liver and kidney issue, various
malignancies, risky sexual activity, physical wounds, poor school performance, cognitive impairments,
addiction, and apathy have been related to alcohol use (Cooper 2002; Hingson et al. 2005;
Rehm et al. 2010; Townshend and Duka 2005; Yamagata et al. 2007). Moreover, the harmful
consequences of drinking alcohol extend beyond the consumer. According to Bouchery et al.
(2011), alcohol consumption may cause anti-social interactions such as being physically and sexually
assaulted, being insulted, and aiding inebriated peers.
Given the negative consequences related with alcohol consumption, the high rate of use among youth
is further reason for alarm. Numerous studies showed that alcohol use is common among adolescents in
the United States (Johnston et al. 2013; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
[SAMHSA] 2014). For instance, the 2012 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual
nationally representative study of the civilian, noninstitutionalized U.S. population, found that approximately
12 percent of American youth aged 12–17 reported drinking (SAMHSA 2014). A similar national
survey from Monitoring the Future (MTF), a long-term study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of
American youth, college students, and young adults, found that approximately 14.6 percent of respondents
in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grade have reported having an experience being drunk (Johnston
et al. 2013). Such high rates of alcohol consumption show the need for further study into the predictors
and correlations of alcohol use among American youth.
CONTACT Hyunin Baek firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
According to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Drinking
2006), young people drink because of various reasons, such as mimicking someone’s drinking
behaviors, seeking thrilling actions, neutralizing positive effects of drinking, or being influenced by
environmental factors. Further, many studies have examined that parent and peer influences were
strongly related to teens drinking (e.g., Donovan et al. 2004; Friese et al. 2012; Livingston et al. 2010;
Wang et al. 2015). Particularly, Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) self-control theory would provide a
useful framework to explain underage drinking. Based on this theory, within the last three decades,
many empirical studies have shown that low self-control increases youth’s drinking behavior as an
imprudent behavior (e.g., Arneklev et al. 1993; Costello, Anderson, and Stein 2014; Griffin et al.
2011; Reisig and Pratt 2011; Tittle, Ward, and Grasmick 2003). Furthermore, prior studies found the
relationships between low self-control and opportunities on juvenile delinquencies (e.g., LaGrange
and Silverman 1999; Moon and Alarid 2015; Seipel and Eifler 2010; Smith 2004). Gottfredson and
Hirschi (1990) indicated that individuals with a lower self-control are less likely to resist the
opportunity to commit crime. However, the opportunity in their self-control theory has been paid
less attention than self-control to find causes of those behaviors, more specifically the moderating
effect of opportunity (Baek, Losavio, and Higgins 2016; Desmond, Bruce, and Stacer 2012; Hay and
Forrest 2008; Seipel and Eifler 2010; Smith 2004). In response to these issues, using Gottfredson and
Hirschi’s (1990) self-control theory, this study intends not only to examine causality of underage
drinking in America, but also to test whether the moderating effect of low self-control and
opportunity impacts drinking behaviors among American adolescents.
Gottfredson and Hirchi’s (1990) self-control theory posits that low self-control is the cause of deviant
and criminal behavior. According to the theory, individuals with low levels of self-control have six
characteristics, which are “impulsive, insensitive, physical (as opposed to verbal), risk-taking, shortsighted,
and nonverbal” (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990, p. 90). In the discussion of “causes of selfcontrol”
by Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990), self-control is instilled early in an individual’s life
through effective parenting, which requires parental management such as monitoring the child,
recognizing deviant behavior when it occurs, and effectively punishing those deviant acts. In
addition, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) identified that people with low self-control, when presented
with the opportunity, are more inclined to involve themselves in criminal behaviors and acts
than those with high self-control. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) demonstrated that individuals who
lack self-control tend to be impulsive, insensitive, risk-seeking, and short-sighted and are less likely
to resist the temptations of crime opportunity since they do not foresee their future consequences of
According to a meta-analysis (Pratt and Cullen 2000), Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) selfcontrol
theory has received much empirical support. In addition, numerous studies have explained
low self-control as a predictor of various types of deviance and crimes, such as academic dishonesty
(Cochran et al. 1998), bullying (Moon, Hwang, and McCluske 2011), juvenile delinquency (Baek,
Nicholson, and Higgins 2018), digital piracy (Higgins 2005, 2006), police misconduct (Donner and
Jennings 2014), and substance use (Desmond, Bruce, and Stacer 2012). In particular, empirical
studies have indicated the level of self-control as a predictor of youth’s drinking behavior
(e.g., Arneklev et al. 1993; Baker 2010; Benda 2005; Griffin et al. 2011; Steketee et al. 2013;
Vazsonyi et al. 2001). For example, Baker (2010) addressed that low self-control was significantly
related to problematic drinking among adolescents, using the Add Health data. With a cross-national
dataset of European countries, the International Self-Report Delinquency study in 2006, Steketee
et al. (2013) concluded that adolescents with low self-control had a much higher prevalence of
alcohol use. Costello, Anderson, and Stein (2014) demonstrated that “research on Gottfredson and
Hirschi (1990) self-control theory has shown self-control to be a robust predictor of a wide range of
criminal and analogous behaviors” (p. 973).
2 H. BAEK AND S. LEE
On the other hand, compared to low self-control in Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) theory,
researchers have paid less attention to opportunity when explaining causes of deviance and crime
(Desmond, Bruce, and Stacer 2012; Hay and Forrest 2008; Seipel and Eifler 2010; Smith 2004).
Further, the role of opportunity in the theory has been controversial (Higgins and Ricketts 2004;
Pratt and Cullen 2000; Seipel and Eifler 2010; Smith 2004; Tittle, Ward, and Grasmick 2003).
Particularly, measurement of opportunity would be difficult to include in relation to self-control
and deviant behaviors since Gottfredson and Hirschi did not provide a precise definition of
opportunity (Seipel and Eifler 2010; Tittle, Ward, and Grasmick 2003). Moreover, opportunity did
not work well as a moderating predictor of deviant and criminal behaviors (see Pratt and Cullen
2000 meta-analysis). Higgins and Ricketts’s (2004) claimed that the role of opportunity is vague in
the theory; for example, in their findings, opportunity did not affect the relationship between low
self-control and academic dishonesty.
Nonetheless, a few studies have identified moderating impacts between opportunities and selfcontrol
on deviant and criminal behaviors (Baek, Losavio, and Higgins 2016; Grasmick et al.
1993; LaGrange and Silverman 1999; Longshore 1998; Longshore and Turner 1998; Moon and
Alarid 2015; Seipel and Eifler 2010). For example, LaGrange and Silverman (1999) asserted that
the interaction between self-control and opportunity was the strongest indicator of delinquent
behaviors among the teens. Another study on the impact of self-control on online harassment
among youth found that there is a moderating impact of opportunity with low self-control on
online harassment (Baek, Losavio, and Higgins 2016). According to Moon and Alarid (2015),
bullying was shown to be better explained by opportunity than low self-control. The authors also
demonstrated that more studies need to explain the interactions between opportunity and low
self-control in relation to bullying. Although these studies did not include underage drinking
directly, their findings could provide a possible framework that moderating effect of opportunity
exists between low self-control and drinking behaviors. For instance, Hay and Forrest (2008)
found that five offenses (assault, theft, vandalism, drug use, and alcohol abuse) were positively
impacted by a lack of parental intervention (e.g., unsupervised time from home) as an opportunity
measure. Furthermore, they found the interacting effect of the parenting and low self-control
(Hay and Forrest 2008).
In addition, the current study also includes a number of demographic variables to be used as
control variables. These include gender, family structure, and religion. Numerous studies have
shown that male students are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors than female students
(e.g., Berlan et al. 2010; Moon et al. 2013; Turner and Piquero 2002; Wang, Iannotti, and Nansel
2009). In particular, several studies have explained the gendered differences of alcohol use among
adolescents (e.g., Schulte, Ramo, and Brown 2009; Zhong and Schwartz 2010). In addition, family
structure was a predictor of underage drinking (Crawford and Novak 2008; Isohanni et al. 1994). For
instance, Crawford and Novak (2008) found that adolescents living in single-parent households had
higher levels of alcohol use. On the other hand, religion was a protective influence on drinking
behaviors among adolescents (Knight et al. 2007; Spein et al. 2011). Thus, previous research on the
correlates of underage drinking needs to include such measures for a more complete theoretical
As related to the aforementioned issues, the purpose of this study was to test whether low selfcontrol
and opportunity influence underage drinking and whether opportunity (e.g., accessibility of
alcohol) has an interaction effect between low self-control and underage drinking. That is, this study
intends to determine whether Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime could be applied to
underage drinking in America. In regard to these research questions, this study examined three
Hypothesis 1: Low self-control increases drinking among adolescents.
Hypothesis 2: Drinking opportunity increases drinking among adolescents.
DEVIANT BEHAVIOR 3
Hypothesis 3: Interaction between low self-control and opportunity increases drinking among
This study used a 2014 survey, “Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth”
(Johnston et al. 2014), which was retrieved from ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political
and Social Research) in 2015. This survey was part of a series that investigated various characteristics
of American youth, such as attitudes, lifestyles, and deviant behaviors. Through a sampling method,
stratified multi-stage cluster sampling, a sample of 28,536 was collected from 8th– and 10th-grade
students in 2014 (Johnston et al. 2014). Firstly, the current study generated another data set of
students who responded to questions regarding our measures (drinking behaviors, self-control, and
opportunity) to examine hypotheses in this study. In particular, since the original data has many
missing values, this study filtered out the data to reduce problems of missing values. However, even
after conducting a missing value analysis and filtering out the data, selected data had similar
demographic characteristics in comparison with the original data: for instance, for gender, 49.8%
were male students in original data vs. 48.5% were male students in selected data; and for race, 17.0%
were Black, 60.4% were White, and 22.6% were Hispanic in original data vs. 14.7% were Black, 72.3%
were White, and 13.1% were Hispanic in selected data. Overall, this study used the selected sample
data set of 4,626.
This study selected items related to drinking behaviors to generate a dependent variable, underage
drinking. These following questions (refer to items) used a 7-point Likert-scale (1 = 0 occasions to
7 = above 40 occasions) as their answers’ choice: “On how many occasions (if any) have you had
alcoholic beverages to drink – more than just a few sips during the last 12 months?”; “On how many
occasions (if any) have you had beer to drink – more than just a few sips during the last 12 months?”;
“On how many occasions (if any) have you been drunk or very high from drinking alcoholic
beverages during the last 12 months?”; and “On how many occasions (if any) have you had flavored
alcoholic beverages like Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice, Baccardi Silver, wine coolers, etc. to
drink – more than just a few sips during the last 12 months?” Through the Principal Component
Analysis (PCA), only one factor with an Eigenvalue higher than one has been obtained from these
questions. Each factor loading (λ) was higher than .50 (all four items were above .88), which
indicates that the factor loadings are large making them substitutive (Kline 2016). Thus, these
items were combined as a summative scale with a higher value of Cronbach’s alpha (α = .92).
Thus, higher scores in this variable indicated that students had more frequency of drinking.
The Impulsive Sensation Seeking scale developed by Zuckerman (1979) was included in the Johnston
and colleagues’ (2014) survey used in this study. Gunter, Higgins, and Gealt (2010) suggested that
the Zuckerman’s scale could be comparable to low self-control of Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990),
particularly impulsivity and risk-seeking parts in the Grasmick and colleagues’ (1993) self-control
scale. Based on this suggestion, this study conducted PCA with selected six items. The results of EFA
showed that only one component was extracted from the following items: “I get a real kick out of
doing things that are a little dangerous” (λ = .81), “I like to test myself every now and then by doing
4 H. BAEK AND S. LEE
something a little risky” (λ = .79), “I would like to explore strange places” (λ = .61), “I like to do
frightening things” (λ = .83), “I like new and exciting experiences, even if I have to break the rules”
(λ = .83), and “I prefer friends who are exciting and unpredictable” (λ = .69). The answers were
coded from 1 = disagree to 5 = agree. Cronbach’s alpha (α) of 6 items was .85. Thus, like the
dependent variable, these items were merged as a measure of low self-control. In this variable,
adolescents with higher scores had lower self-control.
This study also included opportunity as another independent variable. Although Gottfredson and
Hirschi (1990) did not demonstrate the precise definition of opportunity (Seipel and Eifler 2010),
opportunity in their propositions is a crucial predictor to explain various types of deviant and
criminal behaviors. With the same extraction methods of previous variables, this study used following
items as the opportunity measure, accessibility of drinking: “How many of your friends would
you estimate. . . drink alcoholic beverage (liquor, beer, wine)?” (λ = .90), “How many of your friends
would you estimate. . . get drunk at least once a week?” (λ = .85), “How difficult do you think it
would be for you to get [alcohol]. . . if you wanted some?” (λ = .60), and “During the last 12 months,
how often have you used alcohol at a party?” (λ = .74). Higher scores on this variable indicated that
adolescents had more opportunity to access drinking and we had an appropriate reliability for this
variable (α = .75).
Gender from 4,626 students in this data was dummy coded. Five hundred fifty-three (44.3%)
respondents were female (coded as 0) and 695 (55.7%) were male (coded as 1). Regarding family
structure, the current study transformed student’s living with parents to a dichotomous measure
(1 = living with both parents and 0 = living with one parent or others). In addition, this study
combined students’ perceptions toward their religions as a control variable. The respondents used
1 = not important to 4 = very important to respond to this indicator. Although original data include
other demographic factors (e.g., age and ethnicity), this study could not use them due to serious
problems of missing value.
Using the data set of “Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth” (Johnston
et al. 2014), this study conducted data analyses through the following steps. Using SPSS 24.0, the first
analysis involved descriptive statistics for examining the mean, standard deviation, skewness, and
kurtosis. This step provided information about the normality of measures. A measure is normal
when skewness is below 3 and kurtosis is below 7 (Gravetter and Wallnau 2014). Second, this study
conducted a correlation analysis, which shows if the measures shared suitable levels of variation. If
the measures shared too much variation, they would be collinear; but if they did not, they may reveal
important links in the SEM processes. Next, two regression models were computed to test hypotheses
1 through 3. This step determined whether predictor variables made meaningful contributions
to the prediction of the dependent variable.
In order to determine if variables were normal, this study conducted descriptive statistics. If a
measure is not normal, it will be difficult to define the accuracy of the significance level (p-value;
Gelman and Hill 2007). Standard deviations, maximum and minimum values, skewness, and
kurtosis of all variables are presented in Table 1. However, some information on gender and family
structure variables are excluded. Since these variables were dichotomous, examinations of normality
would not be necessary. Except for these variables, other statistics indicated that there were no
DEVIANT BEHAVIOR 5
problems of normality of these variables, meeting the Gravetter and Wallnau’s (2014) thresholds;
skewness of all variables was less than 3 and kurtosis was less than 10.
A bivariate correlation analysis was performed to determine if variables share suitable levels of
variation. With regard to underage drinking, two main variables, low self-control (r = .30, p < .01)
and opportunity (r = .66, p < .01), were positively and significantly related to each other. In addition,
an association between low self-control and opportunity was positively significant (r = .35, p < .01).
In particular, gender was not significantly associated with underage drinking and opportunity.
Moreover, gender and low self-control had a positive correlation, but its correlation was weak
(r = .08, p < .01). Other correlations between control variables can be seen in Table 1. Overall,
there were no potential problems of collinearity.
To determine which independent variables (low self-control, opportunity, and control variables)
were the predictors of underage drinking as a dependent variable, this study conducted a multiple
regression to Model 1. Regression results indicated that an overall model of five predictors
significantly predicted underage drinking (R2
adj = .45, F (5,4383) = 707.64, p < .001). That is, low
self-control, opportunity, and control variables accounted for 44.6% of variance in underage
Table 1. Sample descriptive statistic.
Variables Valid N Mean SD Min Max Skewness Kurtosis
Underage Drinking 4626 6.16 4.10 4 28 2.56 7.10
Low Self-control 2626 19.62 6.33 6 30 −.29 −.67
Opportunity 2626 9.36 3.51 4 19 .39 −.42
Gender (male = 1) 4509 .50 – 0 1 – –
Family Structure (Both parents = 1) 4494 .78 – 0 1 – –
Importance of Religion 4586 2.65 1.10 1 4 −.20 −1.28
Note. N = 4,626, Age and Ethnicity were excluded due to significant problems of missing value.
Table 2. Correlation matrix.
Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6
1. Underage Drinking –
2. Low Self-control .30** –
3. Opportunity .66** .35** –
4. Gender (male = 1) .03 .08** −.03 –
5. Family Structure (Both parents = 1) −.08** −.04** −.04** .03* –
6. Importance of Religion −.15** −.13** −.15** −.06** .05** –
Note. *p < .05, **p < .01
Table 3. Results of multiple regression.
Model 1 b SE β t Tolerance VIF
Low Self-control .04 .01 .07*** 5.50 .87 1.16
Opportunity .73 .01 .63*** 52.17 .87 1.15
Gender (male = 1) .26 .09 .03** 2.89 .99 1.01
Family Structure (Both parents = 1) −.48 .11 −.05*** −4.37 .99 1.01
Importance of Religion −.17 .04 −.05*** −4.03 .97 1.03
adj) .447 (.446)
Note. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001
6 H. BAEK AND S. LEE
drinking. Furthermore, as estimated in the previous section, there were no problems of multicollinearity
within independent variables; all tolerance was above .20 and VIF was below 4.0
(O’Brien 2007). In addition, the results of multiple regression indicated that low self-control
(b = .04, p < .001) and opportunity (b = .73, p < .001) were statistically and significantly related
to underage drinking, even when holding control variables. More specifically, opportunity was the
most significant factor to underage drinking in this model (β = .63) compared to low self-control
(β = .07), gender (β = .03), family structure (β = -.05), and importance of religion (β = -.05).
Therefore, for a one-unit increase in opportunity, there was a .63 change in underage drinking. On
the other hand, underage drinking increased only .07 times with one-unit increase in low selfcontrol.
This study also conducted an alternative model in order to delineate the interacting effect
between low self-control and opportunity on underage drinking. Model 2 in Table 4 shows
the results of this relationship. First, an overall model of all predictors (low self-control,
opportunity, gender, family structure, importance of religion, and the interaction variable)
statistically and significantly predicted underage drinking (R2
adj = .49, F (6,4382) = 689.43,
p < .001). That is, 48.6% of variance in underage drinking was explained by all predictors in
Model 2. Eventually, variance in underage drinking was significantly increased (ΔR2 = .04,
p < .01) when an interaction between low self-control and opportunity was included in Model
1. Additionally, results in this model were similar to those in the previous model. Low selfcontrol
(b = .06, p < .001) and opportunity (b = .69, t = p < .001) were statistically and
significantly related to underage drinking. Opportunity was still the most significant factor to
underage drinking in this model (β = .60) compared to low self-control (β = .09), gender
(β = .11), family structure (β = -.05), and importance of religion (β = -.04). However, this
study found that the interaction between low self-control and opportunity had a positive and
significant impact on underage drinking (b = .04, β = .20, p < .001). A summary of the
regression is presented in Table 4.
Lastly, this study combined a bar graph in order to show clearly the interacting effect between low
self-control and opportunity, based on previous studies’ suggestions (Baek, Andreescu, and Rolfe
2017; Gibson and Wright 2001; Piquero and Tibbetts 1999; Raine, Brennan, and Mednick 1994).
Following the process of these studies, the current study generated a four-category variable using low
self-control and opportunity. That is, after dichotomizing low self-control and opportunity based on
mean scores, this study generated four groups: 1) Category 0 (n = 1,533) indicated a group of High
Self-Control (HSC) and No Opportunity (NOP); 2) Category 1 (n = 1,041) indicated a group of Low
Self-Control (LSC) and No Opportunity (NOP); 3) Category 2 (n = 658) indicated a group of High
Self-Control (HSC) and Opportunity (OP); and 4) Category 4 (n = 1,394) indicated a group of Low
Self-Control (LSC) and Opportunity (OP). The results are shown in Figure 1. The highest mean level
of underage drinking was category 3 (LSC-OP, mean = 9.14). Thus, adolescents with the low level of
self-control and more opportunity had a considerably higher mean score on underage drinking.
Table 4. Results of multiple regression with interaction groups.
Model 2 b SE β t Tolerance VIF
Low Self-control (LSC) .06 .01 .09*** 7.90 .85 1.17
Opportunity (OPP) .69 .01 .60*** 51.20 .85 1.17
Interaction (LSC*OPP) .04 .00 .20*** 18.21 .98 1.03
Gender (male = 1) .26 .09 .03** 2.93 .99 1.01
Family Structure (Both parents = 1) −.45 .11 −.05*** −4.17 .99 1.01
Importance of Religion −.16 .04 −.04*** −4.06 .97 1.03
adj) .486 (.485)
Note. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001
DEVIANT BEHAVIOR 7
Discussion and conclusion
Alcohol use being common among American adolescents (Drinking 2006; Johnston et al. 2013;
SAMHSA 2014), it has become a social problem, leading to negative consequences, poor academic
performance, and physical and mental health problems (Cooper 2002; Hingson et al. 2005; Rehm et al.
2010; Townshend and Duka 2005; Yamagata et al. 2007). With various determinants, many studies have
explained the causality of underage drinking in America including parent and peer influences (Friese
et al. 2012; Wang et al. 2015) and low self-esteem (Fisher et al. 2007; Scheier et al. 2000). More
specifically, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) self-control theory would provide a useful framework to
explain underage drinking. Based on their theory, many studies have examined associations between low
self-control and drinking behaviors (e.g., Baker 2010; Costello, Anderson, and Stein 2014; Reisig and
Pratt 2011; Steketee et al. 2013; Tittle,Ward, and Grasmick 2003); in particular, when they have such
chances that teenagers are more likely to engage in drinking behaviors (e.g., Hay and Forrest 2008).
Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) self-control theory has earned much empirical support to explain various
types of deviant and criminal behaviors (Pratt and Cullen 2000). However, the role of opportunity in the
theory has been not only controversial, but the opportunity has also been relatively under-examined
compared to low self-control (Baek, Losavio, and Higgins 2016; Higgins and Ricketts 2004; Pratt and
Cullen 2000; Tittle,Ward, and Grasmick 2003). Particularly, to explain the underage drinking problem,
previous studies did not include both core concepts of the self-control theory – low self-control and
opportunity – or combine the moderating effect between them. In response to these issues, the current
study tested three hypotheses related to low self-control, opportunity, and the interaction effect.
In this study, there are three main findings which combine low self-control, opportunity, and the
interaction effect between low self-control and the opportunity. Such findings in this study would
have theoretical and practical significance in addressing the problem of underage drinking. First of
all, adolescents with low self-control are more likely to engage in drinking than those with high selfcontrol.
This finding is consistent with results in many empirical tests of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s
(1990) theory. Within the last three decades, numerous studies have shown that adolescents with
lower levels of self-control were more likely to engage in drinking behaviors (e.g., Arneklev et al.
1993; Baker 2010; Benda 2005; Costello, Anderson, and Stein 2014; Reisig and Pratt 2011; Steketee
et al. 2013; Tittle, Ward, and Grasmick 2003). Therefore, this study strongly supported this relation,
indicating that the level of self-control is a crucial predictor of underage drinking in America.
Second, this study found that underage drinking was significantly associated with opportunity,
especially accessibility of drinking (i.e., chances to drink and friends’ influences). Many studies have
indicated that parent and peer influences were strongly related to teens drinking (e.g., Donovan et al.
2004; Friese et al. 2012; Livingston et al. 2010; Wang et al. 2015). However, to our knowledge, there
was no study that included the opportunity of the self-control theory to explain underage drinking,
Figure 1. Mean level of underage drinking for interaction group.
8 H. BAEK AND S. LEE
except for the Hay and Forrest’s (2008) study. Hay and Forrest (2008) found that a lack of parental
intervention (e.g., unsupervised time from home) as an opportunity measure increased alcohol
abuse. Furthermore, a few studies have suggested that the opportunity of the self-control theory
should combine the respondents with low self-control in order to explain deviant and criminal
behaviors (e.g., Baek, Losavio, and Higgins 2016; Grasmick et al. 1993; LaGrange and Silverman
1999; Longshore 1998; Longshore and Turner 1998; Moon and Alarid 2015; Seipel and Eifler 2010).
In particular, the impact of opportunity was higher than other variables in this study. For instance,
in Model 1 of this study, underage drinking increased .63 times with one-unit increase in opportunity.
On the other hand, for a one-unit increase in low self-control, underage drinking increased only
.07 times. Thus, the role of opportunity should be retouched in tests of the self-control theory.
Finally, this study found that opportunity with low self-control had a significant interaction effect
on underage drinking. Following Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) suggestions, previous studies
have shown the interaction effect in examining various types of deviant and criminal behaviors (e.g.,
Baek, Losavio, and Higgins 2016; Grasmick et al. 1993; Hay and Forrest 2008; Moon and Alarid
2015; Seipel and Eifler 2010). That is, adolescents with low self-control, when presented with the
opportunity, are more inclined to involve themselves in imprudent behaviors and acts than those
with high self-control. More specifically, as the finding of Hay and Forrest (2008), the interacting
effect of opportunity and low self-control increased alcohol abuse among adolescents. Like their
study, this study also found that the lower self-control and the higher opportunities adolescents have,
the more they drink. Unlike Pratt and Cullen’s (2000) account, opportunity worked well as a
moderating predictor of underage drinking. Overall, much attention to opportunity will be necessary
to explain and prevent drinking behaviors among adolescents.
Despite these meaningful results, several limitations should be considered. First, the original data
were cross-sectional and, thus, we cannot strongly assume temporal effects. Due to this issue, this data
prevented us from making any causal inferences. In addition, regarding measurements in this study, this
study also had a few limitations. For instance, since Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) self-control theory
did not specify a definition of opportunity, the current study could not strongly address that measures
of opportunity used in this study were correct. Moreover, our measurement of low self-control was not
traditional; we used the Impulsive Sensation Seeking scale developed by Zuckerman (1979). Although
this scale could be compatible with the self-control scale, future studies should use correct scales to
measure low self-control appropriately (e.g., the Grasmick et al.’s 1993] self-control scale). Lastly, as
mentioned in the original survey (Johnston et al. 2014), the missing data rate was high. It could reduce
the accuracy of the significance level. However, we tried to preserve characteristics of the original data
through appropriate filtering processes with missing data analyses. Overall, in spite of several problems,
such as the cross-sectional nature of the data (e.g., unclear time-order) and measurement and data
problems, findings in this study strongly supported Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) self-control
theory. Specifically, this study addressed that opportunity in their study should be examined more to
explain underage drinking. For sturdier models, future studies need to clearly define opportunity and
use proper data sets. In addition, more examinations using the combination of opportunity and low
self-control will be necessary. These can, in turn, provide more theoretical and practical significance in
order to prevent the problem of underage drinking in America.
Notes on contributors
Hyunin Baek is currently a visiting assistant professor at the Department of Criminal Justice at New Mexico State
University. He earned his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from the University of Louisville. His research interests include
internet deviance, juvenile and adult deviance, police officer’s organizational commitment and competency, confidence
in the police, fear of crime, bullying victimization and perpetration, and testing criminological theories. His
most recent publications appear or are forthcoming in Journal of School Violence, Deviant Behavior, Asian Journal of
Criminology, Race and Justice, and International Journal of Police Science & Management.
DEVIANT BEHAVIOR 9
Selye Lee is an assistant professor at the Department of Criminal Justice at West Liberty University. She holds a PhD in
Criminology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Her research interests lie in policing and the community,
the developmental and life-course features of criminal behavior, juvenile justice and delinquency, and comparative
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