How many or how much? Testing the relative influence of the number of social network risks versus the amount of time exposed to social network risks on post-treatment substance use

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BACKGROUND: Having high-risk, substance-using friends is associated with young adult substance use disorder (SUD) relapse. It is unclear, however, whether it is the total number of high-risk friends, or the amount of time spent with high-risk friends that leads to relapse. Unclear also, is to what extent low-risk friends buffer risk. This study examined the influence of number of high-risk and low-risk friends, and the amount time spent with these friends on post-treatment percent days abstinent (PDA).

METHOD: Young adult inpatients (N=302) were assessed at intake, and 3, 6, and 12 months on social network measures and PDA. Mixed models tested for effects of number of high- and low-risk friends, and time spent with these friends on PDA, and for net-risk friend effects to test whether low-risk friends offset risk.

RESULTS: Within and across assessments, number of, and time spent with high-risk friends was negatively associated with PDA, while the inverse was true for low-risk friends. Early post-treatment, time spent with friends more strongly predicted PDA than number of friends. Participants were more deleteriously affected by time with high-risk friends the longer they were out of treatment, while contemporaneously protection conferred by low-risk friends increased. This interaction effect, however, was not observed with number of high- or low-risk friends, or number of friends net-risk.

CONCLUSIONS: Young adult SUD patients struggling to break ties with high-risk friends should be encouraged to minimize time with them. Clinicians should also encourage patients to grow their social network of low-risk friends.

Copyright © 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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Last updated on 09/11/2018