U.S. Trends in Adolescent Substance Use and Conduct Problems and Their Relation to Trends in Unstructured In-Person Socializing With Peers

Jacob T. Borodovsky, Robert F. Krueger, Arpana Agrawal, Basant Elbanna, Margaretha de Looze, Richard A. Grucza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study examined whether national trends in unstructured in-person socializing with peers (i.e., socializing without goals or supervision) among adolescents could help explain recent declines in adolescent risk behaviors (e.g., substance use, fighting, theft). Methods: The sample contained of 44,842 U.S. 12th-grade students (aged 17–18 years) from the Monitoring the Future survey (years 1999–2017). Analyses examined (1) prevalence trends, (2) latent factor structure of risk behaviors and unstructured in-person socializing, and (3) whether trends in the unstructured in-person socializing factor accounted for the relationship between time (i.e., survey year) and the risk behavior factor. Results: Adolescent risk behaviors and unstructured in-person socializing declined by approximately 30% in the U.S., and both formed coherent latent factors. After adjusting for sociodemographics, declines in unstructured in-person socializing accounted for approximately 86% of declines in risk behaviors. Conclusions: The prevalence of risk behaviors and unstructured in-person socializing behaviors declined among U.S. 12th graders from 1999 to 2017. It is unknown whether such effects are directly causal and/or influenced by unmeasured variables. However, the results provide evidence that national declines in unstructured in-person socializing are a likely component of the explanation for national declines in adolescent risk behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-439
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number3
Early online dateApr 1 2021
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism R21AA025689, F32AA027941; the National Institute on Drug Abuse R21DA044744, R01 DA042195, and K02DA032573; the National Institute on Aging R01AG053217 and U19AG051426; and the Templeton Foundation. The funding agencies and data providers had no role in the design, conduct, collection, management, analysis, or interpretation of data, or manuscript preparation, review, approval, or the decision to submit for publication. J.T.B. wrote the first draft of the manuscript, and no honorarium, grant, or other form of payment was given to anyone to produce the manuscript. Conflicts of interest: J.T.B. is a member of the board of directors and treasurer of MySafeRx Inc., a nonprofit scientific research organization. He receives no financial compensation from this organization. R.F.K., A.A., B.E., M.E.D., and R.A.G. have no relevant conflicts to declare.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine


  • Adolescent
  • Delinquency
  • Epidemiology
  • Multivariate modeling
  • Risk behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Unstructured socializing

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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