Peers and friendship networks: The peer and friendship relationships of young people engaged in problematic substance use are particularly influential. Through affiliation with other substance using peers, young people develop attitudes and model behaviours that are reinforced through continued participation together (Bonomo, 2003).
Beyond helping them to belong, some young people might use substances to attain status among their peers (Paglia & Room, 1998). Strong peer group associations of this kind may exacerbate other vulnerabilities in some young people (Seidman & Pederson, 2003).
Young people attending youth AOD services have reported that substance use is one of the main activities that members of their social networks do when they are together, and that it is very difficult to remain substance free when they spend time with friends (Green, Mitchell and Bruun, in revision). Young people in this sample of young clients expressed awareness of a need to move away from substance-using peer networks and make new friends, but they also reported very substantial difficulties in doing so. Despite this, it has been observed that interventions aiming to breaking all such contacts will likely be met with resistance and could be of questionable utility (Kidd, 2003).
Partners and romantic attachments: It is important not to underplay the influence of romantic attachments on substance use risks and patterns. As with peer relationships, substance use can form the glue that holds romantic relationships together. Partners can reinforce each other’s substance-using behaviour. There are times when the one partner might find the prospect of the other partner addressing substance use problems threatening and seek to prevent it.
Among participants in the YSAS client perspectives study (Green et al., in revision); young women commonly described forming relationships with older men who were often suppliers of substances. They reported verbal abuse and/or physical violence in these relationships. Even so, relationships with older partners can be a vital source of support at times and the catalyst for positive change (Keys et al., 2006).