Substance use among African American adolescents: An integrative theoretical approach to the analysis of risk and protective factors

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Marvin P. Dawkins, Committee Chair


The purpose of this study was to develop and apply an integrated theoretical model of substance use to a national longitudinal sample of 1464 African American adolescents. A guiding assumption was that specific theories alone provide only partial explanations and that a developmental, integrative theoretical model provides a more complete explanation and basis for identifying risk and protective factors. Five hypotheses, designed to examine both the pathway to substance abuse and the differing effects of risk and protection along the path, were tested using multiple logistic regression. Hypotheses included: (1) involvement in problem behavior predicts initiation into early gateway substance use; (2) adolescents who have strong social bonds are less inclined to enter the path to substance abuse; (3) once substance use has been initiated, the risk for progressive use increases as the adolescent is exposed to other known risk factors; (4) adolescents who are appropriately bonded have a reduced risk for substance progression; and (5) boys and girls are affected differently when exposed to similar risk and protective factors.The progression of substance use was identified in bivariate analyses and supported in multivariate analyses, thus, lending support to the gateway initiation thesis which suggests a systematic progression of substance use through a series of stages. Adolescents were more likely to initiate either alcohol or tobacco as a first substance, then progress from experimental to regular use of alcohol, then on to marijuana use. Support was found for each hypothesis. Problem behavior was associated with substance initiation, and gender, delinquent peers association, and family member substance use were related to substance progression. Strong social bonding was of relative importance in reducing the risk for both initiation and progression of substance use. The general conclusion of this study is that no single theoretical perspective can adequately explain substance use among African American adolescents. Substance use is a complex, multifaceted social phenomenon that requires an integrative theoretical explanation While substance initiation appears to be part of a network of problem behavior in early adolescents, progression beyond initiation is influenced by multiple factors that cut across ecological domains and requires a comprehensive theoretical explanation.


Black Studies; Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

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