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Seeing others drink alcohol or use drugs can cause teens to engage in antisocial behavior

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Seeing others

In a new study from Duke University, teens who see others drink alcohol or use drugs makes it more likely for them to exhibit antisocial behavior on the same day.

Especially for those who have the ˜risk-taking' gene, young adolescents exposed to substance use may have higher risks of also doing the same thing.

Candice Odgers, an associate professor in Duke's Stanford School of Public Policy and associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy says that previous researches have shown that children who grow up in communities where there is abundant substance abuse are frequently at risk for the development of behavioral problems later in life. But our findings demonstrate that these effects are immediate, she says. Their research was published in Development and Psychology.

The study involved 151 teens, age 11 to 15, who were in living in high-risk neighborhoods. With the use of cellphones, teens were asked to answer survey questions three times a day for a period of 30 days, which showed real-time information on their activities. The subjects were able to complete more than
90% of the surveys.


Lead author Michael Russell, a research associate at the Penn State Methodology Center, says that most prior studies used daily pen and paper diaries and asked the subjects to recall what had happened in the lives in the previous months. Russell conducted the research when he was still a research associate at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy.

Alcohol and Antisocial Behavior

The research compared behavior during days in which the teens witnessed substance abuse, with behavior on days when they were not around people using substances. This allowed the authors to see whether seeing people use substances would trigger behaviors such as stealing, hitting or hurting
someone, or damaging property.

It was found that around 30% in the study group who have the DRD4-7R genotype, upon witnessing substance abuse, engage in antisocial behavior. This was applicable for both males and females. Those without the DRD4-7R genotypes were twice as likely to do antisocial behavior, whereas those with the genotype are six times more likely to do it, after witnessing substance abuse.

Our findings support the idea that situations where others are using alcohol or drugs may serve as ˜triggering contexts' for adolescents' problem behavior, and that some youth, by virtue of their genetics, appear more sensitive to these environmental risks than others, says Russell.

The DRD4-7R gene is actually associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. People who have this disorder have novelty-seeking behavior, and impulsive behavior as well. Recent researches have also shown that persons who have this gene variant may also be more reactive to the environment, which is something known as differential susceptibility.

This heightened sensitivity may be the cause for the DRD4-7R carrying teens' higher risk for antisocial behavior when exposed to other people doing it, but more research is needed, says Russell.

Odgers says that These findings provide another piece of evidence supporting the need to protect young adolescents from exposure to substances.