How Masculinity Affects Young Men’s marijuana Use

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Friendships and ideas about masculinity have a powerful effect on marijuana use among young minority men, report researchers.

Researchers discovered that strong social bonds between men may increase, rather than decrease, marijuana use, contrary to what was previously thought. They also found that men who believe in more traditional masculine gender roles—men are supposed to be strong, successful, and not complain or show worry—are more likely to not use marijuana.

While marijuana use among adolescents in low-income neighborhoods is a common target for study, the new research breaks new ground in the examination of minority men between the ages of 18 and 25, in between adolescence and adulthood, says lead author Tamara Taggart, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. While its use is prevalent among emerging adults of all genders and races, black and Latino emerging adults who use marijuana are more likely to experience the drug’s negative consequences, including incarceration, interpersonal violence, injury, and dependence, as compared to their white peers.

The new study takes one step further than previous studies that determined that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood leads to escalated rates of marijuana use. Researchers looked at two crucial characteristics to determine a neighborhood’s impact on health: neighborhood problems, including abandoned buildings, litter, violence, and crime, which are known to cause daily stress that can hinder health and well-being; and social cohesion—defined by strong interpersonal bonds, shared values, and a lack of conflict between individuals and groups within a neighborhood, which can foster positive health outcomes.

Consistent with previous studies, the researchers found a positive association between neighborhood problems and marijuana use.

“This result suggests that neighborhoods can be a source of stress that may influence men to cope through using substances,” says Taggart.

There was also a positive association with social cohesion, previously thought to be a deterrent to substance use. This could be attributed, according to the research, to social norms that are more permissive of marijuana use, and strong social bonds between those that use marijuana.

Taggart used data from the Cell Phone Research to Enhance Wellness (CREW) study, that explores social networks, cellular phones, and health behavior. The study interviewed 119 minority emerging adult men from New Haven, CT.

Because not all young men in disadvantaged neighborhoods use marijuana, other factors that may deter them need to be considered to get a better understanding of how neighborhood environments can impact substance use. Taggart used masculinity as a further determinant of health behavior.

“These findings underscore the importance of understanding social cohesion and neighborhood contexts when trying to reduce the impact of substance use. Our findings imply that more socially connected men may view marijuana use as a way to enact their masculinity and establish a stable identity,” she says.

Next steps may include trying to get a deeper understanding of the role of these bonds in men’s substance use behaviors, and possible interventions that could reduce neighborhood problems overall through multilevel community-based interventions.

The researchers report their findings in the American Journal on Men’s Health.