• African Americans;
  • gender;
  • poverty;
  • structural equation modeling;
  • substance use;
  • victimization


Aims  This paper examines the effects of experiencing violent victimization in young adulthood on pathways of substance use from adolescence to mid-adulthood.

Design  Data come from four assessments of an African American community cohort followed longitudinally from age 6 to 42 years.

Setting  The cohort lived in the urban, disadvantaged Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago in 1966.

Participants  All first graders from the public and parochial schools were asked to participate (n = 1242).

Measurement  Dependent variables—alcohol, marijuana and cocaine use—came from self-reports at age 42. Young adult violent victimization was reported at age 32, as were acts of violence, substance use, social integration and socio-economic resources. First grade risk factors came from mothers' and teachers' reports; adolescent substance use was self-reported.

Findings  Structural equation models indicate a pathway from adolescent substance use to young adult violent victimization for females and those who did not grow up in extreme poverty (betas ranging from 0.15 to 0.20, P < 0.05). In turn, experiencing violent victimization in young adulthood increased alcohol, marijuana and cocaine use, yet results varied by gender and early poverty status (betas ranging from 0.12 to 0.15, P < 0.05).

Conclusions  Violent victimization appears to play an important role in perpetuating substance use among the African American population. However, within-group variations are evident, identifying those who are not raised in extreme poverty as the most negatively affected by violence.