Popularity as a predictor of early alcohol use and moderator of other risk processes

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2014 Nov;75(6):919-28. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2014.75.919.


Objective: This study tested the relationship between popularity and early adolescent alcohol use and examined whether popularity moderated the influence of several risk processes.

Method: Longitudinal data provided by 1,196 youth (590 girls) were analyzed to assess main and interactive effects of popularity, friends' alcohol use attitudes, own alcohol use attitude, risk taking, and aggressive-disruptive behavior on changes in alcohol use during seventh grade.

Results: When we controlled for demographic variables and baseline alcohol use, popularity and the other predictors of interest exhibited linear main effects on alcohol use, with popularity and the attitude variables also demonstrating curvilinear relationships. Further analysis indicated that popularity moderated the effect of aggressive-disruptive behavior, the latter being associated with greater alcohol use among more popular adolescents. Additional moderation results revealed that friends' favorable attitudes toward alcohol use also potentiated aggressive-disruptive behavior's relationship with alcohol use and that male youth were more likely than female youth to use alcohol, but only among low risk takers.

Conclusions: Popular youth may attempt to maintain status through early alcohol use, and their social competencies may facilitate risk processes associated with aggressive-disruptive behavior. Findings suggest the utility of providing universal prevention at developmentally crucial times to address substance use overall, and particularly to decrease early use among popular youth, which may serve to slow the growth of substance use in the larger cohort. Although aggressive-disruptive youth who are popular seem to be at particular risk, they may resist traditional interventions, indicating the potential value of less obvious intervention strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Aggression*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Attitude
  • Child
  • Female
  • Friends
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Psychological Distance*
  • Risk-Taking*