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Effects of Family, School, Peers, and Attitudes on Adolescents' Drug Use: Do They Vary with Age?

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 19 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2002 Pages: 97-126
Sung Joon Jang
Date Published
March 2002
30 pages
This study examined the age-varying effects of interactional theory’s attitudinal (pro-drug attitudes), as well as relational variables (attachment to parents, commitment to school, and association with drug-using peers) on adolescents’ drug use.
Interactional theory is based on the premise that an adolescent’s behavioral outcomes are formed in interaction with other people and social institutions. The five explanatory variables are attachment to parents, commitment to school, association with delinquent peers, belief in conventional values, and delinquent values. Interactional theory is applied to examine whether the effects of the three most important social domains of adolescence (family, school, and peer group) and an adolescent’s pro-drug attitudes (delinquent values) on drug use systematically vary during adolescence. The data to test this hypothesis came from NYS, a longitudinal study of a national probability sample of 1,725 youths aged 11 to 17 in early 1977. The sample was obtained through a multistage cluster sampling of households in the continental United States. Findings provide a partial support for the developmental claim about the age variation of the causes of deviance. The effects of family, school, peers and drug-related attitudes on adolescents’ drug use were found to vary significantly with age, although the age-varying effects of family and attitudes followed a pattern different from what the theory predicted. The effects of attachment to parents and pro-drug attitudes on general drug use increased between early and middle adolescence and peaked at age mid-15 through late-16 before they began to decline instead of monotonically decreasing or increasing as hypothesized. As expected, the effects of commitment to school and association with drug-using peers on drug use significantly varied, following a curvilinear pattern whose peak was observed between ages 15 and 17. Adolescents faced more stressful developmental challenges in the mid-teen than in the early- or late-teen years. Middle adolescence is the period when the maturity gap widens the most and temptations as well as pressures to cope with the widening gap through delinquency and drug use become the greatest. 2 figures, 1 table, 19 footnotes, 52 references, appendix