Peer Isolation and Drug Use among White Non-Hispanic and Mexican American Adolescents

By Tani, Crystal R.; Chavez, Ernest L. et al. | Adolescence, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview
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Peer Isolation and Drug Use among White Non-Hispanic and Mexican American Adolescents

Tani, Crystal R., Chavez, Ernest L., Deffenbacher, Jerry L., Adolescence


The social-emotional characteristics and drug-use patterns of adolescents who reported having no friends (i.e., isolates) were compared to those of adolescents in drug-using and non-drug-using peer groups. Adolescents who did not have drug-using peers reported the lowest drug use and those with drug-using peers had the highest drug use, with adolescents who were isolated falling in between. Isolated youth reported more shyness, greater feelings of alienation, and lower social acceptance than did those in the other groups. Isolated youth also reported more anger and depression than did youth with non-drug-using peers, but less anger and equivalent depression when compared to adolescents with drug-using peers. Results are discussed in terms of social-emotional characteristics of isolated youth and risk/protective factors.

Peer relationships are important for social skill development (Rubin & Mills, 1993; Piaget, 1926; Sullivan, 1953). For example, peer interactions allow children to develop the capacity for more sensitive perspective taking in interpersonal relationships (Piaget, 1926). This ability to take the perspectives of others develops through episodes of conflict and negotiation.

Studies have shown that children who withdraw from their peers are at risk for future problems in terms of social functioning (Rubin, Hymel, Mills, & Rose-Krasner, 1989; Rubin & Mills, 1988). Another group of relative isolates, anxious-withdrawn youngsters, also experience problems (Gottman, 1977). According to Younger, Gentile, and Burgess (1993), the social withdrawal factor includes shyness, anxiety, oversensitivity, and social isolation. Rubin and Mills (1988) have suggested that the construct of social withdrawal is heterogeneous, whether due to withdrawal, rejection, or both (for example, shyness and sensitivity may be confused with peer rejection). Nonetheless, in a study by Vargo (1995), children who were identified by their peers as withdrawn showed a greater degree of internalizing problems (covert hostility, anxiety, depression, shyness, and worrying), and may be at risk for a variety of emotional, behavioral, and academic problems. In addition, low self-esteem appeared to magnify internalizing be haviors of withdrawn children.

During adolescence, friends and peers play an increasingly greater role in the shaping of behaviors and in identity development (Hartup & Stevens, 1999; Oetting & Donnermeyer, 1998). Developmental outcome may depend on the type of friendship (e.g., supportive vs. unstable) an adolescent experiences (Hartup & Stevens, 1999). Most of the research on social isolation has focused on children, yet it is particularly important to understand, developmentally and socially, how adolescents who are isolated from their peers are different from and/or similar to adolescents who are not.

An aspect of peer influence that has lasting developmental consequences is drug and alcohol use. Adolescents normally are not committed to continued substance use; it generally does not become an integral part of their lifestyle (Clayton, 1992; Flay, d'Avernes, Best, Kersell, & Ryan, 1983). However, the nature of the peer group is critically important in the development of sustained use and, potentially, dependence (Brock et al., 1992; Farrell, Danish, & Howard, 1992; Leary, Tchividjian, & Kraxberger, 1994; McDonald & Towberman, 1993; Oetting & Beauvais, 1986, 1987). That is, involvement with substance-using peers greatly increases the probability of use. Adolescents who use drugs are more likely to associate with drug-using peers, which, in turn, increases the likelihood that they will maintain or increase their drug involvement (McCoy, Metsch, & Inciardi, 1996). Conversely, a youth who associates with peers who do not use drugs tends to have a much lower probability of regular drug use. This might suggest that adolescent isolates would be less prone to use drugs.

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Peer Isolation and Drug Use among White Non-Hispanic and Mexican American Adolescents


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