Alcohol and Marijuana Use in Middle School

Comparing Solitary and Social-Only Users

Published in: Journal of Adolescent Health, v. 55, no. 6, Dec. 2014, p. 744-749

Posted on on January 01, 2014

by Joan S. Tucker, Eric R. Pedersen, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Brett Ewing, Regina A. Shih, Elizabeth J. D'Amico

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Research Question

  1. How do solitary adolescent users of alcohol and marijuana compare with social-only users in their expectations about use, peer influences, and normative beliefs?

PURPOSE: Middle school students with a history of solitary substance use are at elevated risk for substance problems by young adulthood. Understanding how these students differ from social-only users on substance use behaviors and consequences, normative beliefs, social influences, and attitudes can inform efforts to reduce solitary use and its related negative consequences. METHODS: Sixth- to seventh-grade students completed an in-school survey. We compared those with a history of solitary versus social-only alcohol use (n = 202 and n = 616, respectively) and marijuana use (n = 92 and n = 208, respectively) on a range of substance use–related characteristics. RESULTS: Any solitary use was reported by 25% of lifetime alcohol users and 31% of lifetime marijuana users. Those with a history of solitary use of either substance were more likely to hold positive expectancies about their use but also reported more negative consequences during the past year. Solitary users tended to have greater exposure to substance-using peers and more difficulty resisting offers to use. Compared with social-only drinkers, those with a history of solitary drinking perceived that more of their peers were alcohol users. Significant group differences were not found on negative outcome expectancies or attempts to cut down on substance use. CONCLUSIONS: Solitary use is an important, yet, overlooked problem among middle school students who have just begun drinking or using marijuana. Results suggest that positive expectancies, peer influences, resistance self-efficacy, and normative beliefs may be important areas to target in reducing solitary use and the risk it poses for problematic use in young adulthood.

Key Findings

  • Students who are solitary drug users are more likely to believe that alcohol and marijuana will help them relax, get away from their problems, and have more fun.
  • Students who are solitary drug users have greater exposure to substance-using peers, have higher estimates of alcohol and marijuana use for teens of their age, and are less confident they can resist offers of drugs.


Programs to reduce solitary use of alcohol and marijuana during middle school should target positive expectations about use, peer influences, resistance self-efficacy, and normative beliefs.

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