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Antisocial Behavior Puts Health at Risk

Family, School, and Police Interventions Can Help

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April 17, 2003 -- Being a loner does more than make you alone, it could put your health in jeopardy. Though reports have shown links between health and deprivation, much less attention has been paid to the health risk of antisocial behavior.

Researchers say an antisocial lifestyle is clearly related to risky behaviors such as substance abuse, reckless driving, truancy, and sexual promiscuity -- many of which can directly affect a person's health.

In a letter published in the April 19 issue of the British Medical Journal, Jonathan Shepard of the University of Wales College of Medicine, and David Farrington of the University of Cambridge, argue that identifying early on is critical to prevent future health problems.

They say antisocial behavior is more common in men, so the explanations for the lifestyle may be both biological and social. But independent factors shown to increase the likelihood of antisocial behavior as an adult include:

  • Antisocial behavior as a child
  • An antisocial family
  • Poor parenting
  • Economic deprivation

But researchers say there are also several turning points that can steer someone away from an antisocial lifestyle, such as:

  • Getting married
  • Getting a job
  • Moving to a better area
  • Joining the armed forces

The report shows that antisocial behavior has been associated with a higher risk of injury and automobile accidents, especially in younger people. Researchers say injuries are also linked to key components of antisocial behavior such as heavy drinking, low job status, and convictions for driving offences.

The authors say the roots of antisocial behavior are planted in childhood, and it usually becomes apparent by ages 8-14 years and peaks by ages 15-19. That's why intervention programs tend to be most effective when they are directed at young families and schools. For example, education and early family support have been shown to improve parenting skills and foster communication between parent and child. These programs can also reduce child neglect, abuse, and injury, which commonly lead to antisocial behavior.

In addition, researchers say police should target patrols at known hotspots for violence and arrest repeat offenders of drunk driving and domestic violence, who are frequently engaged in antisocial behaviors that put not only their own health but the health of others at risk.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, April 19, 2003.

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