A Network Analysis of Factors Leading Adolescents to Befriend Substance-Using Peers

David R. Schaefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Objective: Our interest is in the systematic network selection processes that lead adolescents into friendships with substance-using peers. Theory suggests that adolescents with certain risk factors (i.e., weak attachments to conventional society and low self-control) are more likely to select substance-using friends. Our goal is to evaluate whether adolescents with particular risk factors have a greater risk for befriending substance-using peers, while controlling for common network selection processes that can produce the same friendship pattern. These selection processes are important as they help to set the stage for later peer influence on substance use. Methods: We use a Stochastic Actor-Oriented Model to examine network change among 1373 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. We test whether low self-control and indicators of weak attachments (to family, school, and religion) predict selecting friends engaged in alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use. Results: We find widespread evidence of the hypothesized friendship pattern within adolescent friendship networks. In most cases this pattern is a product of selection based on the risk factor and substance use, and not attributable to other selection mechanisms. Conclusions: We highlight the need to broaden the study of delinquency to account for how adolescents come to acquire friends who may be negative sources of peer influence. We offer theoretical and methodological insight to this question, ultimately finding that only in limited cases are adolescents with particular risk factors more likely to select friends involved in substance use. We discuss implications for theory and future investigations of peer influence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-312
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Quantitative Criminology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Adolescents
  • Self-control
  • Social network
  • Stochastic Actor-Oriented Model
  • Substance use
  • Weak attachments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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