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Inhalant Abuse Among Semi-Rural In-School Adolescents:  
A Test of Problem Behavior Syndrome

One of the most comprehensive theories of adolescent risk behavior is Jessor's problem behavior theory.  It is the organizing precept of modern approaches to drug abuse prevention.  According to Jessor,  problem behaviors (e.g., all forms of drug use, early sexual activity, other "undesirable" behaviors), covary, sharing a common etiology.  This study challenges the appropriateness of applying drug abuse preventive interventions which are based on problem behavior theory to inhalant abuse.  Results suggest that, due to the unique attributes of inhalants and the unique nosology of inhalant abusers, inhalant abuse may be better explained by factors unique to it than by the common factor that Jessor has identified as underlying all problem behaviors.  Therefore, preventing inhalant abuse may require an approach that departs from traditional drug abuse prevention programming.

The research participants were 908 White, semi-rural, in-school adolescents, grades 7 through 12.  Participants reported lifetime and past month inhalant abuse, along with four "traditional" problem behaviors (lifetime marijuana use, past month problem alcohol use, frequency of fights, risky vehicle use).  

Confirmatory factor analysis was conducted using LISREL 8 (Jörekog & Sörbom, 1996) to test the extent to which intercorrelations among behaviors could be explained by latent factors.  Three models were tested.  

    (1)  The inhalant-exclusive model.  A one factor model consisting of only the four "traditional" problem behaviors (lifetime marijuana use, problem alcohol use, fighting, and risky vehicle use), but not inhalant abuse.  This model fit the data well, indicating that Jessor's problem behavior syndrome may be considered a valid approach to understanding covariation among non-inhalant  problem behaviors for this population.  Jessor's one-factor model of problem behavior accounted for 37% of the covariation among the indicators (c2(2, N=908)= 3.81, p>.05).  [See Table].  The Goodness of Fit Index (GFI) was .99, indicating nearly perfect fit between the model and the observed data.  The Standardized Root-mean-square Residual (SRMR) was .014.  

    (2)  The inhalant-inclusive model.  A 1-factor model consisting of the same four problem behaviors as above, as well as lifetime and past month inhalant use.  The fit of the model deteriorated with the addition of inhalant abuse behaviors, suggesting that Jessor's hypothesized factor of unconventionality does not underlie inhalant abuse to the same extent as other problem behaviors..  

    (3)  The 2-factor model, consisting of one factor representing the four traditional problem behaviors and a separate inhalant abuse factor (lifetime and past month use).  This two-factor model, in which inhalants loaded on a factor separate from other problem behaviors, explained more of the variance among behaviors than Jessor's one-factor model.  This result was consistent for the total sample, as well as the four subsamples based on gender and grade level.

The results of this study suggest that inhalant abuse is better explained by factors unique to it than to the single factor that Jessor advances as common to all problem behaviors.  Interventions that rely on the validity of problem behavior may not effectively address inhalant abuse among White, in-school adolescents in semi-rural commuinties.