This study examines the relationship between personal networks and polysubstance use among people who use drugs (PWUD) in a medium sized city in the Midwest. A large body of work has demonstrated that personal relationships have an ambivalent association with substance use. On the one hand, a supportive network is associated with safer drug use practices and dramatically improves the outlook for recovery. However, individuals whose personal networks are composed of co-drug use partners are more likely to engage in risky practices. We argue that this notion of "supportive" social contacts and "risky" social contacts is ultimately incomplete: risky behaviors are introduced and further developed in a social context, often with the people who provide emotional support. We argue that personal networks with more multiplex relationships (where co-drug use and confiding fuse) are harmful because they combine norms of trust and reciprocity with drug use. We use data from the Rural Health Cohort (RHC) study to test this idea. The sample consists of 120 adult PWUD in a medium sized city located in southeastern Nebraska who were recruited using respondent-driven sampling. Participants listed up to nine confidants and nine co-drug use partners, indicating any overlap between the two networks. Our results demonstrate that multiplex ties are as strongly associated with polysubstance use as simple co-drug use relationships. As the drug crisis has increasingly shifted to underserved populations outside large urban centers, this paper represents an important advance in our understanding of the current drug crisis.
Keywords: Multiplexity; Polysubstance use; Risky behaviors; Social networks; Substance co-use; Substance use.
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