Substance Use Among Middle School Students

Associations with Self-Rated and Peer-Nominated Popularity

Published in: Journal of Adolescence, v. 34, no. 3, June 2011, p. 513-519

Posted on RAND.org on June 01, 2011

by Joan S. Tucker, Harold D. Green, Annie Jie Zhou, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Regina A. Shih, Elizabeth J. D'Amico

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Associations of popularity with adolescent substance use were examined among 1793 6-8th grade students who completed an in-school survey. Popularity was assessed through both self-ratings and peer nominations. Students who scored higher on either measure of popularity were more likely to be lifetime cigarette smokers, drinkers, and marijuana users, as well as past month drinkers. Self-rated popularity was positively associated with past month marijuana use and heavy drinking, and peer-nominated popularity showed a quadratic association with past month heavy drinking. These results extend previous work and highlight that popularity, whether based on self-perceptions or peer friendship nominations, is a risk factor for substance use during middle school. Given the substantial increase in peer influence during early adolescence, prevention program effectiveness may be enhanced by addressing popularity as a risk factor for substance use or working with popular students to be peer leaders to influence social norms and promote healthier choices.

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