Online Program

Social Network Characteristics of Perceived Norms Regarding Methamphetamine Use among Homeless Youth

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Anamika Barman-Adhikari, PhD, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Eric Rice, PhD, Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Stephanie Begun, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Amanda Yoshioka-Maxwell, MSW, USC School of Social Work, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Homeless youth’s social networks have been consistently linked with their substance-use behaviors. Social-networks influence behavior through several mechanisms, especially through the establishment, and maintenance of social-norms. Norms are defined as perceived rules or properties of a group that characterize specific beliefs around what behaviors are considered acceptable or common within that group. While several theories suggest that norms offer a potent channel of initiating and sustaining behavioral change, intervention efforts have been hampered because of the paucity of research examining clustering of norms within specific social-network structures. This study utilized sociometric-analyses to understand whether social norms of drug-use behaviors are clustered within social network-structures.

Methods: Event Based Approach (EBA) was used to delineate the boundary of the two sociometric networks of homeless-youth, recruited from two drop-in centers in Los Angeles (n=160) and Santa Monica (n=130). Measures included 1) perceived substance use by network members (descriptive-norm) and 2) objection to engaging in substance use by network members (injunctive-norm). Sociometric network characteristics included centrality (which measures popularity) and cohesiveness (location within dense sub-networks). The primary behavioral outcome was recent methamphetamine use.

Results: Multivariate logistic-regressions revealed that youth who believed that their peers engaged in methamphetamine-use were 2.5 times more likely to engage in methamphetamine-use. With regards to sociometric network characteristics, perceptions of social-norms were largely shaped by the cohesiveness of the sociometric-network. Specifically, youth who were in more cohesive-networks were 4.5 times more likely to report that their peers used methamphetamine.

Conclusion: These results reveal that social-norms are clustered within networks. Importantly, these results might indicate that peer-based-prevention programs for homeless-youth should not rely on popular opinion leaders. The significance of network-cohesion implies that instead of a leader-centric technique, network interventions should be designed to capitalize on the reciprocity and social influence naturally occurring in the more cohesive parts of networks.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
Demonstrate the social context of methamphetamine use among homeless youth. Identify social network characteristics that influence the perception of norms around drug use. Discuss how naturally occurring social networks can be utilized to promote safer norms of drug use.

Keyword(s): Drug Abuse, Network Analysis

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Since joining the tenure-track faculty at University of Denver, I have continued to study issues associated with vulnerable youth. My long-term research interests include understanding health risk behaviors among vulnerable adolescent populations with the goal to inform intervention development and improve the health status of young people. I am particularly engaged in a line of research which looks at the intersecting influences of family and peers on engagement in risk behaviors among vulnerable youth
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.