Social Network Characteristics Associated with Risky Behaviors among Runaway and Homeless Youth


Runaway and homeless youth are at high risk for substance abuse and unsafe sexual behavior. Our study describes the personal social networks of these youth and examines network characteristics associated with risky behaviors. In 1995 and 1996, we interviewed a purposive sample of youth aged 14 through 21 who were living in Washington, DC and were identified on the streets or through shelters or other service agencies (N = 327). Although we found that most youth reported current social relationships, a significant minority (26%) did not. Youth without a social network were significantly more likely to report current illicit drug use, multiple sex partners, and survival sex than youth with a network. For youth with a network, the networks were small, strong in affective and supportive qualities, comprised primarily of friends, typically included an alcohol or illicit drug user, and usually were not a source of pressure for risky behaviors. Our results indicate that networks had risk-enhancing and risk-decreasing properties in that network characteristics were associated in both positive and negative directions with risky behaviors.


Master of Public Health

Document Type





illicit drugs, social networks, substance abuse, family members, alcohols, prostitution, adolescents, sexual intercourse, human sexual behavior, drug design

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of health and social behavior (1999)