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Explaining Substance Use Among Puerto Rican Adolescents: A Partial Test of Social Learning Theory

NCJ Number
Journal of Drug Issues Volume: 38 Issue: 1 Dated: Winter 2008 Pages: 261-284
Holly Ventura Miller; Wesley G. Jennings; Lorna L. Alvarez-Rivera; J. Mitchell Miller
Date Published
24 pages
Using data from a self-report survey completed by 298 high school students (grades 9 through 12) attending private and public schools in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this study examined whether social learning theory had cross-cultural application regarding substance use (cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana) among Puerto Rican adolescents.
Study findings provide preliminary support for social learning theory as it relates to substance use among Puerto Rican adolescents. In testing two of the four components of social learning theory (i.e., definitions and differential association), the study found that students who reported favorable definitions of substance use were more likely to report lifetime substance use. This link was consistent across both private and public school students and substance types (cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana). Differential association, which involves association with peers who hold antisocial and antimainstream values, was also found to be related to substance use. Lifetime alcohol use and marijuana use was strongly related to favorable peer definitions for both public and private school students. One of the most interesting findings was the strength of the link between differential association and substance use among private-school students. Not only were private-school students more likely to use drugs and alcohol than public school students, they were more likely to have more favorable personal definitions of use and perceive more favorable attitudes among their peers. A puzzling finding was that age exerted a significant negative effect on alcohol use by private-school girls and on marijuana use by private-school boys. Since the study did not include a focus on the other two components of social learning theory (i.e., differential reinforcement and imitation), the authors note that the study did not qualify as a complete test of social learning theory. 4 notes, 3 tables, and 63 references