Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 143-180

First online:

Peer pressure and adolescent substance use

  • Mark D. ReedAffiliated withDepartment of Criminal Justice, Georgia State University
  • , Pamela Wilcox RountreeAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, University of Kentucky

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Peer influence is regarded as one of the strongest determinants of juvenile delinquency and particularly adolescent substance use. A commonly held view is that social pressure from friends to use drugs and alcohol is a major contributor to substance use. Yet the notion of peer pressure, implied by the association between peer-group associations and drug behavior, is seldom tested empirically. As a crucial test of the group pressure model, this research examines the role of peer pressure in mediating the effect of differential association on individual use. Moreover, few studies examine the nature of the relationship between peers and substance use as it relates to the processes leading toand from use. Drawing on differential association and social learning theories, our research specifies the social processes (socialization, group pressure, social selection, and rationalization) which dictate particular causal pathways leading to and from substance use and then estimates the reciprocal influences among differential association, social pressure from peers, attitudes favorable toward substance use, and individual use. Using the 1977–1979 National Youth Survey panel data, we estimate a covariance structural equation model allowing for correlated measurement error. In the cross-sectional analyses, we find no main effects of overt peer pressure on substance use. Estimation of the reciprocal effects model also reveals that overt peer pressure does not significantly influence substance use and does not mediate the effect of differential association. Instead, the influences of socialization, social selection, and rationalization play significant roles in understanding substance use.

Key words

adolescent substance use peer pressure structural equation methods differential association social learning