Probing the relationship between volunteering and substance abuse in adolescence: A test of two explanations.
Geller, Joanna Danielle
Since 1990, there has been a marked increase in rates of youth volunteering, prompting researchers to investigate the academic, behavioral, and civic effects of volunteering. Although several notable studies have revealed an association between volunteering and risk behavior reduction, little is known regarding what factors explain this relationship. This study attempts to explore the linkage between volunteering and substance abuse through a secondary analysis of Monitoring the Future data, which is collected annually with a representative national sample of high school seniors. Results indicate that the relationship between volunteering and lower rates of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol use is mediated through the attachments young people form with peers, family members, and school when they volunteer. Psychosocial factors, such as emotional well-being and risk-taking disposition, did not mediate the relationship between volunteering and reduced substance abuse. Additionally, more frequent volunteering was not always associated with lower rates of substance abuse. Although many policies regarding youth volunteering at the school, district, state, and federal level concern the amount of time adolescents spend volunteering, volunteer opportunities may be most effective when they offer young people opportunities to connect with pro-social peers and adults and interact in positive ways with institutions.