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