Saturday, March 19, 2016

An Inside Look at Homeless Youths’ Social Networks: Perceptions of Substance Use Norms

Substance use among homeless young people is a pervasive problem, and there have been many efforts to understand more about the dynamics of this health compromising behavior. The current study examined perceived substance use norms within homeless youths’ social networks utilizing in-depth interviews. The sample included 19 homeless individuals aged 16 to 21. Four elements of substance use within networks emerged: substance use choices, drug use safety issues, encouragement and/or discouragement, and appropriate situations in which substance use is condoned. These findings provide unique insight into the norms associated with drug and alcohol use within homeless youths’ social networks.

Individual and Social Network Substance Use Norms Sample Quotes

Qualitative codes and subcodesSelected qualitative quotes
Substance use choices
Anything goes- I just didn’t care. I’d do anything. I’d let anybody else do anything.
Undesirable substance use- I don’t condone the use any, any illegal drugs, period. I don’t even like drinking or smoking…it inhibits you.
Substance use distinctions-I mean everyone smokes pot sometimes. But it’s not like an addiction you know it’s smoke here and there and then you know have fun.
Safety concerns
Knowing your limits-If I’ve got a buzz, I got to stop because if I drink more than what I’m supposed to, I get so drunk and I will get myself into trouble.
Drug-related safety- try a little bit and see how it [the drug] does.
Buddy system- Stay with the other person [substance user] to make sure they don’t…end up all fucked up laying somewhere.
Encouraging and discouraging messages
Offering and visibility- He’ll probably just be like ‘come on, just one drink, come on that’s it’ that kind of pressure.
No encouragement necessary- I’ve never needed no encouragement. I just do it on my own.
Words of warning-All of them say ‘Just stay clean.’ They, they’re always telling me, ‘Don’t, don’t use this, it’s just complications.’
Avoidance- If you are a crack-head, you’re gonna have to do it in your tent and nobody else can be around.
Substance use situations
Managing emotions- Um back when I was using um, [in] stressful situations, when I was mad, [and] when I was sad. I used emotionally, every emotion..
Managing social situations- I’ll do it because I feel like well if everybody else is getting fucked up that’ll give me more of the reason to you know just fit-like go right along with it.

Some homeless young people report that their network members encourage drug and alcohol use by making it widely available or by pressuring them to use. This is consistent with the literature which holds that if network norms are consistent with drug and alcohol use and participation in these behaviors is valued within the group, the youth is likely afforded more opportunities to use alcohol and drugs and may model the behavior of other members (). In contrast several young people stated that it was unnecessary for network members to encourage substance use because they personally make the decision to drink and/or use drugs. It is possible that the young people in this latter group already have high rates of substance use and thus join peer groups where network norms are consonant with their own values, beliefs, and behaviors regarding alcohol and drug use. This finding is consistent with  who found that those who belonged to social groups with drug dependent members were more likely to report personal substance use dependency. Finally, several describe how their networks discourage substance use through words of warning or through avoidance techniques. It is possible that young people who belong to social networks who do not condone alcohol and drug use are less likely to initially be substance users.

Our final theme, which focuses on situations in which substance use is condoned among homeless young people, is particularly unique and adds to the existing literature because it reveals circumstances in which alcohol and drug use is more likely to occur within their social networks. Thus, our findings provide insight into why homeless youth view substances as functional and how they are sometimes used to cope with emotions or social situations. Several respondents describe situations in which they use substances to assist with managing feelings of depression, resentment, and sadness associated with experiences of child abuse. Others report using substances to cope with anger and other negative feelings associated with their current circumstances of having to survive on the street. Thus, some drugs may be used as a coping mechanism to relieve numerous stressors, including those associated with street life (; ; ). Finally, some talked about using substances in social situations perhaps because friends were using or because they want to fit in with the group. This may be particularly important for those who are new to the streets and are looking for dependable individuals who will afford them protection and teach them survival techniques. Although not highly desirable, these individuals may join substance using groups because they feel people within these networks are important for their survival on the streets…

Full article at:

By:  Lisa A. Melander, Ph.D., Kimberly A. Tyler, Ph.D., and Rachel M. Schmitz, B.A.
Lisa A. Melander, Kansas State University, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work;
Direct all correspondence to Dr. Lisa A. Melander, Kansas State University, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, 204 Waters Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506. Phone: (785) 532-6865. Fax (785) 532-6978. 

No comments:

Post a Comment