Mediation of neighborhood effects on adolescent substance use by the school and peer environments

Kara E. Rudolph, Oleg Sofrygin, Nicole M. Schmidt, Rebecca Crowder, M. Maria Glymour, Jennifer Ahern, Theresa L. Osypuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: Evidence suggests that aspects of the neighborhood environment may influence risk of problematic drug use among adolescents. Our objective was to examine mediating roles of aspects of the school and peer environments on the effect of receiving a Section 8 housing voucher and using it to move out of public housing on adolescent substance use outcomes. Methods: We used data from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment that randomized receipt of a Section 8 housing voucher. Hypothesized mediators included school climate, safety, peer drug use, and participation in an after-school sport or club. We applied a doubly robust, semiparametric estimator to longitudinal MTO data to estimate stochastic direct and indirect effects of randomization on cigarette use, marijuana use, and problematic drug use. Stochastic direct and indirect effects differ from natural direct and indirect effects in that they do not require assuming no posttreatment confounder of the mediator-outcome relationship. Such an assumption would be at odds with any causal model that reflects an intervention affecting a mediator and outcome through adherence to treatment assignment. Results: Having friends who use drugs and involvement in after-school sports or clubs partially mediated the effect of housing voucher receipt on adolescent substance use (e.g., stochastic indirect effect 0.45% [95% confidence interval: 0.12%, 0.79%] for having friends who use drugs and 0.04% [95% confidence interval: -0.02%, 0.10%] for involvement in after-school sports or clubs mediating the relationship between housing voucher receipt and marijuana use among boys). However, these mediating effects were small, contributing only fractions of a percent to the effect of voucher receipt on probability of substance use. No school environment variables were mediators. Conclusions: Measured school- and peer-environment variables played little role in mediating the effect of housing voucher receipt on subsequent adolescent substance use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)590-598
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2018 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Adolescent
  • Mediation
  • Neighborhood
  • Stochastic intervention
  • Substance use


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