The goal of this study is to better understand the longitudinal cross-lagged associations between popularity, assessed through self-rating and peer nominations, and alcohol use among middle school students.
The analytical sample comprises 1,835 sixth- to eighth-grade students who were initially recruited from three California middle schools and surveyed in the fall and spring semesters of 2 academic years. Students reported on their background characteristics, past-month alcohol use, and perceived popularity. Additionally, students provided school-based friendship nominations, which were used to calculate peer-nominated popularity. A cross-lagged regression approach within a structural equation modeling framework was used to examine the longitudinal relationship between popularity (self-rated and peer-nominated) and alcohol use.
There was a statistically significant (p = .024) association between peer-nominated popularity and the probability of alcohol consumption at the subsequent survey, but not vice versa. Our results suggest that in a scenario where 8% of students are past-month drinkers, each increase of five friendship nominations is associated with a 30% greater risk of being a current drinker at the next wave. We found no evidence of longitudinal associations between past-month alcohol consumption and self-rated popularity.
Popularity is a risk factor for drinking during the middle school years, with peer-nominated popularity being more predictive of use than self-perceptions of popularity. To inform alcohol prevention efforts for middle school students, additional research is needed to better understand why adolescents with a larger number of school-based friendship ties are more inclined to drink.
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