The strain theory is a criminology and sociology theory that attempts to explain causes of maladaptive behavior by stating that society and related institutions pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals. Although this theory is mainly focused on environmental factors, it is able to explain youth drug issues from the social and cultural perspective.
The theory suggests that unfavorable social and cultural factors put pressure on individuals leading to a crime’s commitment (Peck et al., 2018). Pedalono and Frailing (2018) state that strains can lead to a negative view of others and in turn result in negative emotions, especially anger, that can then lead to criminal coping, including crime and substance use (p. 88). For instance, one of the main reasons for drug dealing among youth is poverty and lack of professional opportunities. Poor backgrounds drive people to engage in illegal activity to earn enough money for a living. According to Antolak-Saper (2020), almost half of the Victorian homeless population face alcohol and drug-related problems.
Families, as social institutions, are the primary units that affect young individuals, shape their personality, and form central social beliefs. The quality of upbringing, family experiences, and access to childcare, education, and legal institutions determine children’s future social behavior (Pedalono & Frailing, 2018). In this case, the strain model explains the root causes that drive youth to commit criminal offenses. Rickwood et al. (2019) reveals that lack of access to education is strongly associated with Melbourne’s youth engagement in drug dealing and drug abuse.
Strain theory asserts that people turn to criminal activities to escape or mitigate external pressures set on them by community and environment. Individuals seek vengeance against sources of pressure and engage in criminal acts to counter and alleviate negative emotions they experience (Teijón-Alcalá & Birkbeck, 2019). This concept explains why young people raised by drug addicts or alcoholics become drug dealers. People who are unemployed for too long also often turn to drug use or dealing in order to earn a living and feel better.
The concept of retreatism brings insights into the theory from an individual perspective; it states that people may break social norms and ignore the goals set by institutions and society. What is more, individuals tend to reject traditional means of achieving these goals, including finding a job or place to live (MacNeill et al., 2020). This model provides personal reasons in addition to environmental ones to explain young people’s decision to become homeless, use or sell drugs. Phelan (2019) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018) indicate that the leading causes of growing youth homelessness in Melbourne are high unemployment, family violence, abuse, and alcohol/drug addiction. According to Couch (2017), the national census report revealed that more than 5000 young Victorians spend nights without the comfort of the safety of their own home.
Strain theory has some limitations, including the inability to explain the impact of public perception on drug consumers and drug dealers. However, the labeling concept suggests that the way individuals perceive themselves is socially constructed and may negatively or positively impact youth behavior (Riveret et al., 2018). Under this concept, Melbourne’s youth who deals with drugs rely on substance use to counter society’s rejection and prejudice. According to Shirley (2017) and Sallybanks (2021), supportive approaches are the best answer to the rising drug problem and labeling issue. For instance, such drug outreach supports like ones initiated in rural Victoria and Melbourne have the potential to lower the number of young drug offenders.
To conclude, despite the high environmental focus, the strain theory provides valuable knowledge and insights to evaluate and explain Victoria’s problem of rising youth involvement in illegal practices.
Antolak-Saper, N. (2020). The Adultification of the Youth Justice System: The Victorian Experience. Law in Context. A Socio-legal Journal, 37(1), 1-15. Web.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018). Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Web.
Couch, J. (2017). Neither here nor there’: refugee young people and homelessness in Australia. Children and Youth Services Review, 74(C), 1-7. Web.
MacNeill, T., O’Connor, C., Frederick, T., & James-Charles, E. (2021). From strain theory to the capacity to aspire: A contribution to the cultural political economy of development. Community Development, 1-19. Web.
Peck, J. H., Childs, K. K., Jennings, W. G., & Brady, C. M. (2018). General strain theory, depression, and substance use: Results from a nationally representative, longitudinal sample of White, African-American, and Hispanic adolescents and young adults. Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, 27(1), 11-28. Web.
Pedalono, J., & Frailing, K. (2018). General Strain Theory and Prescription Drug Misuse among Honors Students. Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, 19(1), 85-103. Web.
Phelan, M. (2019). Crime & justice research 2019. Australian Institute of Criminology. Web.
Rickwood, D., Paraskakis, M., Quin, D., Hobbs, N., Ryall, V., Trethowan, J., & McGorry, P. (2019). Australia’s innovation in youth mental health care: the headspace Centre model. Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 13(1), 159-166. Web.
Riveret, R., Baroni, P., Gao, Y., Governatori, G., Rotolo, A., & Sartor, G. (2018). A labeling framework for probabilistic argumentation. Annals of mathematics and artificial intelligence, 83(1), 21-71. Web.
Sallybanks, J. (2021). What works in reducing young people’s involvement in crime? Australian Institute of Criminology. Web.
Shirley, K. (2017). The Cautious Approach: Police cautions and the impact on youth reoffending. Crime Statistics Agency, 9, 1-23. Web.