Temporal Associations of Popularity and Alcohol Use Among Middle School Students
Published In: Journal of Adolescent Health, v. 52, no. 1, Jan. 2013, p. 108-115
Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2012
- Are popular middle school students more likely to drink?
PURPOSE: The goal of this study is to better understand the longitudinal cross-lagged associations between popularity, assessed through self-rating and peer nominations, and alcohol use among middle school students. METHODS: The analytical sample comprises 1,835 sixth- to eighth-grade students who were initially recruited from three California middle schools and surveyed in the fall and spring semesters of 2 academic years. Students reported on their background characteristics, past-month alcohol use, and perceived popularity. Additionally, students provided school-based friendship nominations, which were used to calculate peer-nominated popularity. A cross-lagged regression approach within a structural equation modeling framework was used to examine the longitudinal relationship between popularity (self-rated and peer-nominated) and alcohol use. RESULTS: There was a statistically significant (p = .024) association between peer-nominated popularity and the probability of alcohol consumption at the subsequent survey, but not vice versa. Our results suggest that in a scenario where 8% of students are past-month drinkers, each increase of five friendship nominations is associated with a 30% greater risk of being a current drinker at the next wave. We found no evidence of longitudinal associations between past-month alcohol consumption and self-rated popularity. CONCLUSIONS: Popularity is a risk factor for drinking during the middle school years, with peer-nominated popularity being more predictive of use than self-perceptions of popularity. To inform alcohol prevention efforts for middle school students, additional research is needed to better understand why adolescents with a larger number of school-based friendship ties are more inclined to drink.
Middle school students with high popularity ratings from classmates are more likely to use alcohol.
- Popular students may have more direct exposure to drinking role models, access to alcohol, opportunities to use, or social stress.