NIDA-funded researchers at the Arizona State University in Phoenix found that among 12-year-olds who have been offered drugs, boys are most likely to have received those offers from other males or their parents. Girls are most likely to have been offered drugs by a female friend or family member. Although the most common strategy for rejecting these offers is a simple refusal, boys are more likely than girls to explain their refusal.
Dr. Dreama Moon (now at California State University, San Marcos) and Dr. Michael Hecht (now at Pennsylvania State University) interviewed 2,622 7th-graders in the metropolitan Phoenix area to determine patterns of exposure to and use of illicit drugs-alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or "hard drugs" (described in the interviews as hallucinogens, cocaine, or crack cocaine), and inhalants.
"Boys are more at risk than girls for offers at a younger age, and more likely to be offered alcohol, marijuana, and 'hard' drugs by their parents or by other males-relatives, acquaintances, and strangers," Dr. Moon says. "On the other hand, girls tend to be at risk for offers from other girls-acquaintances or family members of roughly the same age-or, to a lesser extent, from older boyfriends."
The social settings and nature of drug offers also differ by gender, the researchers say. Boys are more likely to receive offers in a public setting, such as on the street or in a park, and the offers to males typically emphasize the "benefits"-improved status or self-image-of drug use. Girls are more likely to receive a straightforward "do you want some?" offer or one that minimizes the risks of drug use. For girls, these offers are usually made in a private setting such as a friend's home.
The strategies used to resist drug offers appear to have gender-based influences, Dr. Moon notes. "Boys are often socialized in a way that makes a simple 'no' unacceptable. They are more likely to explain their refusal," she says. Girls, on the other hand, are less likely to use an "explain" strategy because it leads to a counter explanation. "If this continues through two or three cycles of explain-and-counter, girls may be susceptible to use," according to Dr. Moon. "Understanding the different ways in which boys and girls experience and refuse offers of drugs is crucial to the design of more effective intervention or prevention programs," she says.
Moon, D.G.; Hecht, M.L.; Jackson, K.M.; and Spellers, R.E. Ethnic and gender differences and similarities in adolescent drug use and refusals of drug offers. Substance Use & Misuse 34(8):1059-1083, 1999.