Neighborhood Characteristics and the Initiation of Marijuana Use and Binge Drinking

Published in: Drug and Alcohol Dependence, v. 128, no. 1-2, Feb. 2013, p.83-89

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2012

by Joan S. Tucker, Michael Pollard, Kayla De La Haye, David P. Kennedy, Hank Green

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Research Questions

  1. Do the characteristics of residential neighborhoods influence the initiation of marijuana use and binge drinking among adolescents?
  2. Do neighborhood factors heighten or dampen peer influences on substance use?

BACKGROUND: This study examines whether residential neighborhood characteristics influence the initiation of marijuana use and binge drinking, and if these neighborhood factors heighten or dampen peer influences on substance use. METHODS: Predictors of marijuana (N=6516) and binge drinking (N=6630) initiation over a 1-year period were identified using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Participants were of ages 12-19 years at baseline. The main predictor variables were neighborhood characteristics, using both objective (proportion of households below the poverty line and female-headed, unemployment rate, residential stability) and subjective (perceived cohesion and safety) measures. Binge drinking was defined as 5 or more drinks in a row. RESULTS: Initiation occurred for 12.9% of adolescents in the case of marijuana and 16.4% for binge drinking. Marijuana initiation was more likely among adolescents who lived in neighborhoods with a higher unemployment rate, and binge drinking initiation was more likely among those who perceived greater safety in their neighborhood, after adjusting for other neighborhood characteristics, demographics, friend characteristics, and behavioral and family risk factors. There was no evidence that neighborhood context moderates the associations of peer factors on initiation. CONCLUSIONS: Select neighborhood characteristics appear relevant to the initiation of marijuana use and binge drinking, although the mechanisms appear to be distinct for each substance. If these results are found to be robust, future research should aim to better understand how neighborhood context influences the initiation of adolescent substance use in order to inform prevention efforts.

Key Findings

  • Neighborhood characteristics such as a higher unemployment rate and greater perceptions of safety appear to influence initiation of marijuana use and binge drinking, respectively.
  • How these characteristics exert their influence appears to be distinct for each substance.
  • Neighborhood factors do not affect peer influences on substance use.

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