The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Are Social Network Correlates of Heavy Drinking Similar Among Black Homeless Youth and White Homeless Youth?

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 3:00 PM
Marina 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Hsun-Ta Hsu, MSW, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Suzanne Wenzel, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Purpose: Homeless youth engage in multiple risky behaviors, including drinking. Heavy drinking is associated with many negative consequences for youth.  Although Black youth are less likely to engage in drinking than White youth, consequences are more serious for Black youth.  Social network interventions have been proposed to reduce risky behaviors among homeless youth specifically; however, investigation of race-based differences in the association of network characteristics with drinking is absent in the literature. Prevention science has prioritized understanding of racial differences in networks for culturally tailored intervention development.  This study investigates differences in network characteristics between Black and White homeless youth, and the association of network characteristics with drinking among these youth. We hypothesized that types of network alters would differ between Black youth and White youth. We further expected that relatives’ drinking behavior would be more influential on Black youth’s heavy drinking, while peers’ drinking behaviors would be more influential on White youth’s heavy drinking.

Methods:A probability sample of 235 Black and White homeless youth ages 13-24 were interviewed in Los Angeles County. Participants’ background information and alcohol consumption behavior were collected. Heavy drinking is defined as “ever had 5 or more alcoholic drinks in a row in the past 30 days”.  Egocentric social network data were gathered by asking each participant to nominate 20 alters with whom they interacted in the past three months. We focus on alter types (e.g. relatives, and students who attend schools), and their drinking behaviors. Chi-square or one-way ANOVA tests were conducted to identify social network differences between Black and White youth. Logistic regressions stratified by race were conducted to investigate the association between social network characteristics and heavy drinking in the two groups.

Results: Black youth reported significantly more relatives and students who attend school regularly in their networks, while White youth reported significantly more homeless persons, and peers who drink heavily in their networks (all p< .001, one-tailed tests). Having peers who drink heavily was significantly associated with drinking only among White youth (OR = 1.23, 95% CI = 1.12-1.35). Having students in the network who attend school regularly was preventive against heavy drinking among both Black and White youth (respectively: OR=0.29, 95% CI=0.09-0.99; OR=0.21, 95% CI=0.05-0.81).

Implications: The results suggest the importance of having pro-social peers in preventing heavy drinking in both Black and White homeless youth. Future interventions should focus on strengthening or developing homeless youth’s social ties with school peers. Our findings also suggest that network characteristics may play somewhat different roles in influencing Black and White youth’s heavy drinking.  White youth are more likely to be enmeshed within networks where drinking norms are prevalent.  Programs targeting White homeless youth should focus on decreasing ties with deviant peers, or prepare them with skills to counter prevailing normative influences. Finally, except for alters who attend school, we failed to identify significant network properties associated with Black homeless youth’s heavy drinking. Future research is needed to identify potential network characteristics influential to Black homeless youth’s drinking behavior.