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People, Places, and Adolescent Substance Use: Integrating Activity Space and Social Network Data for Analyzing Health Behavior

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This research investigates the influence of place and social network characteristics on substance use among a sample of 215 urban, primarily African American, adolescents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We utilize survey data that capture the places that adolescents perceive to be risky and safe, as well as their home location. The survey also captures the egocentric social network characteristics that are associated with each type of place for each adolescent. Place-characterization data included indicators of a variety of physical features we theorize might enhance or mitigate the likelihood of substance use, such as the locations of alcohol outlets, recreation centers, and violent crime. We employ multivariate Tobit regression to investigate the relationships of place and social characteristics with substance use behavior. Substance use was greater for males and older adolescents but was associated with few physical features of adolescents' homes or perceived safe places. Substance use was enhanced by several characteristics of adolescents' perceived risky places, such as commercial activity in distressed neighborhoods. In addition, the presence of substance users at an adolescent's perceived risky place was associated with an increase in substance use. Substantial differences concerning gender and age were also observed. Girls and older adolescents tend to be more sensitive to social and place characteristics as compared to boys. This study highlights the importance of capturing activity space characteristics, perceptions of places, and social network data for investigating substance use, as well as for studies of other health and crime behaviors.
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Keywords: Tobit; activity space; drug abuse; social network; substance use

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, Temple University, 2: Department of Education and Human Services, Villanova University,

Publication date: 2011-03-01

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