Cover: Temporal Associations of Popularity and Alcohol Use Among Middle School Students

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 2012

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

Research Question

  1. 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.

Key Findings

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.

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