Attitudes toward smoking influence teenagers' use of multiple drugs-smoking, drinking and using marijuana in combination-and that this manifested itself differently in boys and girls, says a new study by Cornell Medical College researchers.
The researchers say that ambivalent or permissive attitudes within a social group toward smoking were found to be associated with poly-drug use among girls.
However, poly-drug use among boys was found to be linked with the extent to which they thought smoking to be prevalent in their larger age group, not just among their friends.
"If a teenager feels smoking is socially acceptable and widely practiced, they are much more likely not only to smoke, but to also drink and possibly use marijuana," says lead author Dr. Jennifer A. Epstein, assistant professor of public health in the Division of Prevention and Health Behavior at Weill Cornell Medical College.
"While the differences between how boys and girls are influenced by these social factors are subtle, they could help us develop new gender-specific educational tactics for preventing these behaviours," she adds.
The study has also shed light on several factors that were the same for boys and girls.
The researchers say that when their friends drank alcohol or smoked or when their parents had permissive or ambivalent attitudes toward drinking, both teenage boys and girls were more likely to report poly-drug use.
According to them, other major variables included teenagers' inability to refuse drugs, and achieve goals through their own efforts.
"A parent's opinion matters. Moms and dads are critical role models and should let their attitudes against drug use be known. It's also important to keep an eye on their child's social circle, since, especially for girls, it's their friends who are so central to influencing their behaviour. At the same time, parents can do things that reduce their child's risk for using drugs, such as teaching them to set goals and assert themselves," says Dr. Epstein.
The findings are based on an analysis of data from confidential surveys taken by 2,400 sixth- and seventh-graders in inner-city schools in New York City.
The questions that the subjects were asked dealt with substance use and several psychological factors that previous research suggests may be related to drug use.
According to Dr. Epstein, one implication of these findings is that "comprehensive prevention programs focusing on multiple gateway drugs (alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana) may prove to be more valuable than programs focusing on a single drug."