Are Social Network Correlates of Heavy Drinking Similar Among Black Homeless Youth and White Homeless Youth?

Published In: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, v. 73, no. 6, Nov. 2012, p. 885-889

Posted on RAND.org on November 01, 2012

by Suzanne L. Wenzel, Hsun-Ta Hsu, Annie Jie Zhou, Joan S. Tucker

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OBJECTIVE: Understanding factors associated with heavy drinking among homeless youth is important for prevention efforts. Social networks are associated with drinking among homeless youth, and studies have called for attention to racial differences in networks that may affect drinking behavior. This study investigates differences in network characteristics by the racial background of homeless youth, and associations of network characteristics with heavy drinking. (Heavy drinking was defined as having five or more drinks of alcohol in a row within a couple of hours on at least one day within the past 30 days.) METHOD: A probability sample of 235 Black and White homeless youths ages 13-24 were interviewed in Los Angeles County. We used chi-square or one-way analysis of variance tests to examine network differences by race and logistic regressions to identify network correlates of heavy drinking among Black and White homeless youth. RESULTS: The networks of Black youth included significantly more relatives and students who attend school regularly, whereas the networks of White youth were more likely to include homeless persons, relatives who drink to intoxication, and peers who drink to intoxication. Having peers who drink heavily was significantly associated with heavy drinking only among White youth. For all homeless youth, having more students in the network who regularly attend school was associated with less risk of heavy drinking. CONCLUSIONS: This study is the first to our knowledge to investigate racial differences in network characteristics and associations of network characteristics with heavy drinking among homeless youth. White homeless youth may benefit from interventions that reduce their ties with peers who drink. Enhancing ties to school-involved peers may be a promising intervention focus for both Black and White homeless youth.

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