Sex Roles

, Volume 70, Issue 3–4, pp 98–109 | Cite as

Associations Between Mixed-Gender Friendships, Gender Reference Group Identity and Substance Use in College Students

  • Clare M. Mehta
  • Jacqueline Alfonso
  • Rebecca Delaney
  • Brian J. Ayotte
Original Article


We investigated the associations between same-gender friendship, gender reference group identity, and substance use in college students (54 % male, M age = 19.23, SD = 1.23) from the northeastern United States using an online survey. Male students reported greater weekly marijuana, but not alcohol use than female students. Regression analyses revealed that having a greater proportion of same-gender friendships was associated with greater weekly alcohol use for male students and lesser weekly alcohol and marijuana use for female students. Gender reference group identity was negatively associated with weekly marijuana use for male and female students. For female students, gender reference group identity mediated the association between proportion of same-gender friendships and weekly marijuana use. Our study highlights the importance of considering the social context (e.g., the gender of friends) and individual variables relating to gender (e.g. gender reference group identity) in substance use research. Our findings fit within social constructionist models of social development that suggest participation in gendered contexts (e.g., same-gender or other-gender-peer contexts) over time cue gender-typed behaviors such as using marijuana.


Gender segregation Same-sex friendships Cross-sex friendships marijuana use Alcohol use Gender identity College students 



The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers who provided feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. We would also like to thank Grant Kuehl, Kelly R. Smith, and Danielle Rose for their comments.


  1. Akers, R. L. (1998). Social learning and social structure: A general theory of crime and deviance. Boston: Northeastern University.Google Scholar
  2. Akers, R. L., Krohn, M. D., Lanza-Kaduce, L., & Radosevich, M. (1979). Social learning and deviant behavior: A specific test of a general theory. American Sociological Review, 44, 636–655. doi: 10.2307/2094592.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. American Psychological Association (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from
  4. Andrews, J. A., Tildesley, E., Hops, H., & Li, F. (2002). The influence of peers on young adult substance use. Health Psychology, 21, 349–357. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.21.4.349.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arndorfer, C. L., & Stormshak, E. A. (2008). Same-sex versus other-sex best friendship in early adolescence: Longitudinal predictors of antisocial behavior throughout adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 1059–1070. doi: 10.1007/s10964-008-9311-x.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480. doi: 10.1037//0003-066X.55.5.469.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bahr, S. J., Hoffmann, J. P., & Yang, X. (2005). Parental and peer influences on the risk of adolescent drug use. Journal of Primary Prevention, 26, 529–551. doi: 10.1007/s10935-005-0014-8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychlogy, 51, 1173–1182. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.51.6.117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boyd, C. J., McCabe, S. E., Cranford, J. A., Morales, M., Lange, J. E., Reed, M. B., Ketchie, J. M., & Scott, M. S. (2008). Heavy episodic drinking and its consequences: The protective effects of same-sex, residential living-learning communities for undergraduate women. Addictive Behaviors, 33, 987–993. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2008.03.005.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bukowski, W. M., Sippola, L. K., & Hoza, B. (1999). Same and other: Interdependency between participation in same- and other-sex friendships. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 28, 439–459. doi: 10.1023/a:1021664923911.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Capraro, R. L. (2000). Why college men drink: Alcohol, adventure, and the paradox of masculinity. Journal of American College Health, 48, 307–315. doi: 10.1080/07448480009596272.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carter, D. B. (1987). The roles of peers in sex role socialization. In D. B. Carter (Ed.), Current conceptions of sex roles and sex typing: Theory and research (pp. 101–121). New York: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  13. Chomak, S., & Collins, R. L. (1987). Relationship between sex-role behaviors and alcohol consumption in undergraduate men and women. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 48, 194–201.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Copenhaver, M. M., & Eisler, R. M. (1996). Masculine gender role stress: A perspective on men’s health. In P. M. Kato & T. Mann (Eds.), Handbook of diversity issues in health psychology (pp. 219–235). New York: Plenum Press. doi: 10.1007/978-0-585-27572-7_12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Courtenay, W. H. (2000). Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men’s well-being: A theory of gender and health. Social Science & Medicine, 50, 1385–1401. doi: 10.1016/S0277-9536(99)00390-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. De Visser, R. O., & Smith, J. A. (2007). Alcohol consumption and masculine identity among young men. Psychology & Health, 22, 595–614. doi: 10.1080/14768320600941772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Deaux, K., & Major, B. (1987). Putting gender into context: An interactive model of gender-related behavior. Psychological Review, 94, 369–389. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.94.3.369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dempster, S. (2011). I drink, therefore I’m man: Gender discourses, alcohol and the construction of British undergraduate masculinities. Gender & Education, 23, 635–653. doi: 10.1080/09540253.2010.527824.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Diamond, L. M., & Dubé, E. M. (2002). Friendship and attachment among heterosexual and sexual-minority youths: Does the gender of your friend matter? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31, 155–166. doi: 10.1023/a:1014026111486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dick, D. M., Pagan, J. L., Holliday, C., Viken, R., Pulkkinen, L., Kaprio, J., & Rose, R. J. (2007). Gender differences in friends’ influences on adolescent drinking: A genetic epidemiological study. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 31, 2012–2019. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2007.00523.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gaughan, M. (2006). The gender structure of adolescent peer influence on drinking. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47, 47–51. doi: 10.1177/002214650604700104.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hibell, B., Guttormsson, U., Ahlström, S., Balakireva, O., Bjarnason, T., Kokkevi, A., & Kraus, L. (2012). The 2011 ESPAD report: Substance use among students in 36 European countries. Retrieved from:
  23. Hoeppner, B. B., Paskausky, A. L., Jackson, K. M., & Barnett, N. P. (2013). Sex differences in college student adherence to NIAAA drinking guidelines. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 37, 1779–1786. doi: 10.1111/acer.12159.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Hummer, J. F., LaBrie, J. W., Lac, A., Sessoms, A., & Cail, J. (2012). Estimates and influences of reflective opposite-sex norms on alcohol use among a high-risk sample of college students: Exploring Greek-affiliation and gender effects. Addictive Behaviors, 37, 596–604. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2011.11.027.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Huselid, R. F., & Cooper, M. L. (1992). Gender roles as mediators of sex differences in adolescent alcohol use and abuse. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 33, 348–362. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.103.4.595.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Huselid, R. F., & Cooper, M. L. (1994). Gender roles as mediators of sex differences in expressions of pathology. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103, 595–603. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.103.4.595.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Iwamoto, D. K., & Smiler, A. P. (2013). Alcohol makes you macho and helps you make friends: The role of masculine norms and peer pressure in adolescent boys’ and girls’ alcohol use. Substance Use and Misuse, 48, 371–378. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2013.765479.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Iwamoto, D. K., Cheng, A., Lee, C. S., Takamatsu, S., & Gordon, D. (2011). “Man-ing” up and getting drunk: The role of masculine norms, alcohol intoxication and alcohol-related problems among college men. Addictive Behaviors, 36, 906–911. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2011.04.005.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2012). Monitoring the future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2011. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  30. Knecht, A. B., Burk, W. J., Weesie, J., & Steglich, C. (2011). Friendship and alcohol use in early adolescence: A multilevel social network approach. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21, 475–487. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00685.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kulis, S., Marsiglia, F. F., & Hecht, M. L. (2002). Gender labels and gender identity as predictors of drug use among ethnically diverse middle school students. Youth and Society, 33, 442–475. doi: 10.1177/0044118X02033003005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lye, D. N., & Waldron, I. (1998). Relationships of substance use to attitudes toward gender roles, family, and cohabitation. Journal of Substance Abuse, 10, 185–198. doi: 10.1016/S0899-3289(99)80133-3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Maccoby, E. E. (1998). The two sexes: Growing up apart, coming together. Cambridge: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Malow-Iroff, M. S. (2006). Cross-sex best friendship influences on early adolescent cigarette and alcohol expectancies and use. The Journal of Psychology, 140, 209–227. doi: 10.3200/JRLP.140.3.209-227.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Marshal, M. P., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., King, K. M., Miles, J., Gold, M. A., Bukstein, O. G., & Morse, J. Q. (2008). Sexual orientation and adolescent substance use: A meta-analysis and methodological review. Addiction, 103, 546–556. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02149.x.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Martin, C. L., & Fabes, R. A. (2001). The stability and consequences of young children’s same-sex peer interactions. Developmental Psychology, 37, 431–446. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.37.3.431.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McDougall, P., & Hymel, S. (2007). Same-gender versus cross-gender friendship conceptions: Similar or different? Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 53, 347–380. doi: 10.1353/mpq.2007.0018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mehta, C. M., & Strough, J. (2009). Sex segregation in friendships and normative contexts across the life span. Developmental Review, 29, 201–220. doi: 10.1016/j.dr.2009.06.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mehta, C., & Strough, J. (2010). Gender segregation and gender-typing in adolescence. Sex Roles, 63, 251–263. doi: 10.1007/s11199-010-9780-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Michaelieu, Q. (1997). III. Female identity, gendered parenting and adolescent women’s self-esteem. Feminism & Psychology, 7, 328–333. doi: 10.1177/0959353597073005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Monk, D., & Ricciardelli, L. A. (2003). Three dimensions of the male gender role as correlates of alcohol and cannabis involvement in young Australian men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 4, 57–69. doi: 10.1037/1524-9220.4.1.57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Monsour, M. (2002). Women and men as friends: Relationships across the life span in the 21st century. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  43. Mrug, S., Borch, C., & Cillessen, A. H. N. (2011). Other-sex friendships in late adolescence: Risky associations for substance use and sexual debut. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 40, 875–888. doi: 10.1007/s10964-010-9605-7.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mullen, K., Watson, J., Swift, J., & Black, D. (2007). Young men, masculinity and alcohol. Drugs: Education, Prevention & Policy, 14, 151–165. doi: 10.1080/09687630600997816.Google Scholar
  45. Peralta, R. (2007). College alcohol use and the embodiment of hegemonic masculinity among European American men. Sex Roles, 56, 741–756. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9233-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Peralta, R. L., & Steele, J. L. (2010). Non-medical prescription drug use among US college students at a midwest university: A partial test of social learning theory. Substance Use and Misuse, 45, 865–887. doi: 10.3109/10826080903443610.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Peralta, R. L., Steele, J. L., Nofziger, S., & Rickles, M. (2010). The impact of gender on binge drinking behavior among college students attending a midwestern university: An analysis of two gender measures. Feminist Criminology, 5, 355–379. doi: 10.1177/1557085110386363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Poulin, F., & Pedersen, S. (2007). Developmental changes in gender composition of friendship networks in adolescent girls and boys. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1484–1496. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.43.6.1484.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Poulin, F., Denault, A. S., & Pedersen, S. (2011). Longitudinal associations between other-sex friendships and substance use in adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21, 776–788. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2011.00736.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Razzino, B. E., Ribordy, S. C., Grant, K., Ferrari, J. R., Bowden, B. S., & Zeisz, J. (2004). Gender-related processes and drug use: Self expression with parents, peer group selection, and achievement motivation. Adolescence, 39, 167–177.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Room, R. (1996). Gender roles and interactions in drinking and drug use. Journal of Substance Abuse, 8, 227–239. doi: 10.1016/S0899-3289(96)90271-0.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rose, A. J., & Rudolph, K. D. (2006). A review of sex differences in peer relationship processes: Potential trade-offs for the emotional and behavioral development of girls and boys. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 98–131. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.132.1.98.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schulte, M. T., Ramo, D., & Brown, S. A. (2009). Gender differences in factors influencing alcohol use and drinking progression among adolescents. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 535–547. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2009.06.003.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Silverthorn, P., & Frick, P. J. (1999). Developmental pathways to antisocial behavior: The delayed-onset pathway in girls. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 101–126. doi: 10.1017/s0954579499001972.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Steele, J. L., Peralta, R. L., & Elman, C. (2011). The co-ingestion of nonmedical prescription drugs and alcohol: A partial test of social learning theory. Journal of Drug Issues, 41, 561–586.Google Scholar
  56. Strough, J., & Covatto, A. M. (2002). Context and age differences in same- and other-gender peer preferences. Social Development, 11, 346–361. doi: 10.1111/1467-9507.00204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of national findings, NSDUH series H-44, HHS publication no. (SMA) 12–4713. Rockville: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Google Scholar
  58. Sutherland, E. H. (1939). Principles of criminology. Chicago: J.B. Lippincott Company.Google Scholar
  59. Wade, J. C. (2008). Masculinity ideology, male reference-group identity dependence, and African American men’s health-related attitudes and behaviors. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 9, 5–16. doi: 10.1037/1524-9220.9.1.5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Whiting, B., & Edwards, C. P. (1988). A cross-cultural analysis of sex differences in the behavior of children aged 3 through 11. In G. Handel (Ed.), Childhood socialization (pp. 281–297). Hawthorne: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  61. Wright, P. (1989). Gender differences in adults’ same- and cross-gender friendships. In R. G. Adams & R. Blieszner (Eds.), Older adult friendship: Structure and process (pp. 197–221). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clare M. Mehta
    • 1
  • Jacqueline Alfonso
    • 2
  • Rebecca Delaney
    • 3
  • Brian J. Ayotte
    • 4
  1. 1.Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical SchoolEmmanuel CollegeBostonUSA
  2. 2.Emmanuel CollegeBostonUSA
  3. 3.West Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  4. 4.University of Massachusetts, DartmouthNorth DartmouthUSA

Personalised recommendations