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The accuracy of young adult cannabis users’ perceptions of friends’ cannabis and alcohol use

Much research has indicated that perceptions of substance use of peers of adolescents and young adults can influence substance use behaviors, and that perceived use is often overestimated. A recent study looked at this impact specifically within young adults who had symptoms of cannabis use disorder, with a goal of seeing if these participants could accurately predict the substance use patterns of their friends.

In this study, young adult participants were recruited from a large university. They were chosen from a group that had recently participated in a clinical trial for the treatment of cannabis use disorder. Each student provided the names and contact information for three close friends, to whom referral emails were sent to invite them to participate in the study. The study consisted of surveys detailing participants’ demographics, cannabis use disorder symptoms, perception of their friends’ substance use, and personal cannabis and alcohol use.

The results of these surveys indicated that young adults with cannabis use disorder are aware of whether or not their close friends use substances and are very accurate in knowing the frequency of use. Cannabis and alcohol use of friends predicted personal use, and this effect was much stronger for alcohol. This suggests that alcohol use among young adults is more strongly associated with the friend group one surrounds themselves with compared to cannabis. These results vary from other research that is based on comparing one’s beliefs of “typical” peer substance use behaviors and overestimating use. This is due to the validated close friendships of the participants and suggests that using perceptions of close friend substance use can still be used in developing substance use prevention and treatment.

Take Away: Young adults with cannabis use disorder can accurately predict the use and frequency of use of alcohol and marijuana among their close friends. This differs from other research suggesting the young adults perceive that their peers use substances more frequently than they actually do.

Mason, M.J., Brown, A., Moore, M. (2019). The accuracy of young adult cannabis users’ perceptions of friends’ cannabis and alcohol use. Addictive Behaviors. doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.02.021.

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