Social Networking Technology, Social Network Composition, and Reductions in Substance Use Among Homeless Adolescents

Rice, Eric; Milburn, Norweeta; Monro, William
March 2011
Prevention Science;Mar2011, Vol. 12 Issue 1, p80
Academic Journal
Peer-based prevention programs for homeless youth are complicated by the potential for reinforcing high-risk behaviors among participants. The goal of this study is to understand how homeless youth could be linked to positive peers in prevention programming by understanding where in social and physical space positive peers for homeless youth are located, how these ties are associated with substance use, and the role of social networking technologies (e.g., internet and cell phones) in this process. Personal social network data were collected from 136 homeless adolescents in Los Angeles, CA. Respondents reported on composition of their social networks with respect to: home-based peers and parents (accessed via social networking technology; e.g., the internet, cell phone, texting), homeless peers and agency staff (accessed face-to-face) and whether or not network members were substance-using or non-substance-using. Associations between respondent's lifetime cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine use and recent (previous 30 days) alcohol and marijuana use were assessed by the number of non-substance-using versus substance-using ties in multivariate linear regression models. 43% of adolescents reported a non-substance-using home-based tie. More of these ties were associated with less recent alcohol use. 62% of adolescents reported a substance-using homeless tie. More of these ties were associated with more recent marijuana use as well as more lifetime heroin and methamphetamine use. For homeless youth, who are physically disconnected from positive peers, social networking technologies can be used to facilitate the sorts of positive social ties that effective peer-based prevention programs require.


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