Many variables can influence a teenager to start using drugs. Although some factors are innate, a fair share of research has helped uncover the substantial role peer relationships play in this behavioral process. If one starts looking into the pressures of social acceptance as a teen, a trail of evidence leads to the reasoning behind most cases of substance use.
Dexter C. Dunphy, Ph.D., from Harvard University spearheaded a line of research from 1963 that sought to outline how adolescent social networks operated. By observing crowds and cliques within suburban populations, the researcher established a conceptual hierarchy of reciprocal roles and relationships. Both cliques and crowds had leaders, which were supported by a “sociocenter” of followers. Social development within the group is set by the leaders, while the sociocenter served to relieve group tension.
Numerous studies have continued investigating this scientific/psychological trend over the years. In 1996, colleagues Susan T. Ennett of the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina and Karl E. Bauman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a study that explored school-based, demographic and long-term considerations in relation to adolescent social networks. In the course of a year, the researchers observed the friendships between 1,030 ninth-grade students. Overall, clique membership served as the cornerstone for most social structures. In addition to remaining stable over the 12-month period, cliques were outstandingly homogeneous in variables such as gender, race and parental education.
The duo’s follow-up study conducted in 2000, “Adolescent social networks: Friendship cliques, social isolates, and drug use risk,” took the discussion a step further. Ennett and Bauman focused on the factor of peer relationships as a primary reason for cigarette smoking within the adolescent demographic. They discovered that the amount of smokers who identified as clique members was greater than the number of non-clique smokers in four of the five school population samples.
Lastly, a 2011 study entitled, “Peer Contagion in Child and Adolescent Social and Emotional Development,” by Thomas J. Dishion and Jessica M. Tipsord of the University of Oregon highlighted how deviant, peer interactions in childhood can increase problem behaviors in adolescence, which include drug use and other delinquent activities.
Identifying the phenomenon as peer contagion, the two also detailed that adolescents labeled as “at-risk” for behavioral intervention or have experienced a history of rejection are the most susceptible to this type of influence. Conversely, adult supervision, positive parenting, general life structure and self-regulation skills stood out as protective factors.
Knowing the precursors of drug initiation is an essential step to preventing the destructive behavior and protects future populations from it as well. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a specialized facility that provides comprehensive care to adolescents who are struggling with various kinds of substance abuse issues and even co-occurring disorders. Call us to speak with a professional today.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer