Substance Use Among 7th – 9th Grade Adolescents: The Role of Risk- Related Variables in the Probability of Use Involving Tobacco, Alcohol and Marijuana

Susana Ana Villalobos, University of Texas at El Paso


The role of schools in preventing substance use among adolescents is a priority for public health advocates across the United States. In recent years the United States has seen an increase in prescription medication overdoses in adults and adolescents. A lack of research exists of adolescents in middle school substance use (Welsh, & Rappaport, 2018). Trends of adolescent substance use of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana continue to rise. Early onset use of legal and illegal substances has proven to increase the odds of long-term use of adolescence into adulthood. Parents, educators, community advocates and law enforcement have long tackled the issue of substance misuse on school campuses, with little to no success, with national campaigns such as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program (D.A.R.E.), and the “Just Say No” campaign, failing in their overall efforts (Ennett, Tobler, Ringwalt & Flewelling, 1994; Lynam, Milich, Zimmerman, Novak, Logan, Martin, Leukefeld, Clayton, 1999; Werb, 2018). Moreover, researchers (Hawkins, Jenson, Catalano, Fraser, Botvin, Shapiro & Rotheram-Borus, 2016) have found that in regulating substance use behavior, schools favor incorporating punishment and consequence over access to prevention services that include promoting positive behaviors. This study examined reports of substance use among 7th - 9th grade adolescents, and the influence of “close-friend” substance use, access to legal and illegal substances, and school environment as risk-related factors of use. This research utilized the Texas State School Survey collected by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and by the Institute at Texas A&M University. Participants were 7th - 9th graders (n = 27,035) from middle schools across the state of Texas, including El Paso, Texas, and are drawn from a larger study (N = 49,070). It was hypothesized that the relationship of “close-friend” influence of substance use, access of tobacco, alcohol or marijuana, and school environment would be associated with higher frequencies in the use of legal and illegal substances among 7th – 9th grade adolescents. A predictive research design using logistic regression analysis, along with descriptive statistics were used as the primary analysis of substance use among 7th – 9th grade adolescents (11-16 years of age). Results from the analysis showed responses to “close-friend” influence is a likely motivator for use, and while a large percentage of middle school adolescents are not using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana, there appears to be an interactional relationship that occurs at this transitional period for adolescents. Students whose “close-friends” were using tobacco, alcohol or marijuana had odds that were significantly greater than those students who did not have substance using friends. The likelihood of marijuana substance use was also found to be significantly higher than tobacco and alcohol use. This may mean that while students who have not been exposed to either tobacco, alcohol or marijuana within their home environment, will most likely be exposed at some level in their school environment. Findings also suggest that an adolescent’s impression on a safe school environment, may have implications for prevention efforts on middle school campuses.

Subject Area

Educational administration|Educational leadership|Middle School education|Developmental psychology|Behavioral psychology

Recommended Citation

Villalobos, Susana Ana, "Substance Use Among 7th – 9th Grade Adolescents: The Role of Risk- Related Variables in the Probability of Use Involving Tobacco, Alcohol and Marijuana" (2020). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI27743827.