The Influence of Peer Affiliation and Student Activities on Adolescent Drug Involvement

By Jenkins, Jeanne E. | Adolescence, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview
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The Influence of Peer Affiliation and Student Activities on Adolescent Drug Involvement


Jenkins, Jeanne E., Adolescence


For nearly two decades, drug use among our nation's youth has become the focus of intense concern. In response, numerous studies have been conducted to unravel the etiological complexities of illegal substance use. It is now evident from published studies that a variety of factors account for the initial experimentation and developmental progression of more frequent drug use patterns. However, psychosocial factors appear largely responsible for the initiation of substance use. There is a general consensus that interpersonal mechanisms remain the most potent explanatory factors in adolescent drug involvement. In particular, studies have documented a strong association between affiliation with drug-using friends, familial drug involvement, and drug use among youths. Numerous studies have found that students who associate with drug-using friends are more likely to use. Hawkins, Lishner, & Catalano (1985) identified peer factors as among the strongest predictors of adolescent drug use.

Similarly, family systemic functioning characterized by drug use behaviors and acceptance increases students' risk of drug involvement. Several studies have shown significant associations between parent and family qualities and drug use behaviors in their children. These influences have included parent drug use (e.g., Newcomb, Huba, & Bentier, 1983), family disruption (e.g., Babst, Miran, & Koval, 1976), and parental attitudes toward drug involvement (e.g., Korsnick & Judd, 1982). An association between adolescent drug use and parenting practices has also been found. In a review of family factors, Jurich, Polson, Jurich, and Bates (1985) found that adolescent drug users came from families where there was a greater communication barrier between parents and youth, and a more authoritarian or laissez-faire parenting style. Other investigations have focused on individual factors in substance abuse. Such studies have shown that while evidence of a specific personality profile does not appear to exist, many psychological factors do relate to drug use (Millman & Botvin, 1983). These have included lower self-esteem, greater external locus of control, a higher degree of dissatisfaction and pessimism, and a greater impatience to assume adult roles.

Various theoretical perspectives have been advanced to explain the role of social factors in drug initiation and maintenance. However, social learning and social control perspectives have more often served as the basis for examining peer and familial factors in adolescent substance abuse. Empirical validation for social control and social learning theoretical explanations can be found in the literature (e.g., Hays & Ellickson, 1990; Needle et al., 1986; Ong, 1989; Stein, Newcomb, & Bentler, 1987). Such explanations primarily focus on how social processes, particularly peer affiliation, influence drug involvement through the processes of modeling and reinforcement. Social development theory, with an emphasis on contextual variables, has received less empirical attention in relation to substance abuse. This theory predicts that student involvement in constructive activities, in addition to consistent rewards for successful participation, prevents delinquency. Less is known about the relative importance of students' academic and extracurricular involvements in their drug use. While studies have found an inverse relationship between academic performance level and drug use, the explanatory power of this academic variable relative to peer influence remains unclear. Similarly, less is known about how youth activities relate to drug involvement. In a review of two dominant social perspectives on the etiology of substance abuse, Fraser (1987) argued that the literature on substance abuse is dominated by individual-level psychosocial theories which guide much of the research. He advocated for comprehensive theories to include ecological considerations as well as prevention programs designed to alter school environments for purposes of strengthening youths' attachment to school, broadening involvement in conventional activities, and promoting academic achievement in an effort to reduce drug involvement.

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