Smoking, Drinking At School May Be Contagious For Teens
Teens are more likely to share smoking and drinking habits with their peers when they attend schools with a relatively large number of students who use tobacco or alcohol, according to a new study.
Such schools provide increased opportunity for teens who are susceptible to drinking and smoking to choose friends who share their interests, according to H. Harrington Cleveland, J.D., Ph.D., of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and colleagues.
"In these high-use schools, adolescents who are biased toward smoking and drinking have a more varied pool of potential peers from which to draw and are thus likely to encounter similar individuals with whom to form friendships," Cleveland says.
Cleveland says that membership in these groups may amplify teens' pre-existing behavioral tendencies, increasing their risk of using alcohol and tobacco.
Among the seventh to 12th graders surveyed by Cleveland and colleagues, individual students were three times as likely to follow their peers' smoking behaviors when they attended schools with high numbers of smoking or drinking students, compared with schools that had low numbers of substance users.
Alcohol use was also more similar between individuals and their peers in "high-use" schools, although the school environment did not affect drinking behavior to the same extent as smoking behavior. The researchers suggest that the public nature of smoking could make it easier for teens to spot potential friends with similar behavior.
High-use environments may create more peer pressure to smoke or drink, but peer pressure may not necessarily lead to greater similarity in behavior between a teen and her peer group, according to the researchers.
"The mere presence of so many smokers and drinkers may enhance adolescents' beliefs that drinking and smoking are normal and acceptable," Cleveland says.
The researchers say that their findings may support the use of school-based programs to decrease tobacco and alcohol use among teens.
The study appears in the January-February issue of Child Development and was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.