Moderators of Friend Selection and Influence in Relation to Adolescent Alcohol Use

Abstract

Friendships form an important context in which adolescents initiate and establish alcohol use patterns, but not all adolescents may be equally affected by this context. Therefore, this study tests whether parenting practices (i.e., parental discipline, parental knowledge, unsupervised time with peers) and individual beliefs (i.e., alcohol descriptive norms, positive social expectations, moral approval of alcohol use) moderate friend selection and influence around alcohol use. Stochastic actor-based models were used to analyze longitudinal social network and survey data from 12,335 adolescents (aged 11 to 17, 51.3% female) who were participating in the PROSPER project. A separate model was estimated for each moderating variable. Adolescents who reported consistent parental discipline, less unsupervised time with peers, higher descriptive alcohol use norms, and less positive social expectations about alcohol use were less likely to select alcohol-using friends. Those who reported consistent parental discipline, better parental knowledge, lower descriptive alcohol use norms, and less positive social expectations were more influenced by their friends’ level of alcohol use. Thus, adolescents with these characteristics whose friends frequently use alcohol are at greater risk whereas those whose friends do not use alcohol are at lower risk of using alcohol. The findings show that, although selection and influence processes are connected, they may function in different ways for different groups of adolescents. For some adolescents, it is particularly important to prevent them from selecting alcohol-using friends, because they are more susceptible to influence from such friends. These peer network dynamics might explain how proximal outcomes targeted by many prevention programs (i.e., parenting practices and individual beliefs) translate into changes in alcohol use.

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Funding

This work was supported by grants from the W.T. Grant Foundation [8316], National Institute on Drug Abuse [R01-DA018225], National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [R24-HD041025], and the Dutch Research Council [VI.Veni.191R.003]. The data are from PROSPER, a project directed by R. L. Spoth, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse [R01-DA013709]. The content of this article is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Evelien M. Hoeben.

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Ethics Approval

The procedures for the overarching PROSPER study were approved by the IRB committees of Iowa State University and Pennsylvania State University. The PROSPER Peers study was approved separately by the IRB committee at Pennsylvania State. The study was performed in line with the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki.

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All participants and their parents provided informed consent, as approved by the IRB.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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To inquire about the conditions for access to the data, please contact the first author. The analytical code for this project has been deposited to OSF (https://osf.io/we3dj/).

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Hoeben, E.M., Rulison, K.L., Ragan, D.T. et al. Moderators of Friend Selection and Influence in Relation to Adolescent Alcohol Use. Prev Sci (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-021-01208-9

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Keywords

  • Adolescent alcohol use
  • Peer selection and influence
  • Social network
  • Parenting