Urban American Indian Youth Substance Use: Ecodevelopmental Influences

Urban American Indian Youth Substance Use: Ecodevelopmental Influences

Principal Investigator: Stephen S. Kulis

Funding: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, center grant award P20 MD002316 NIMHD (2012-2017)

This study addresses gaps in knowledge of how contextual factors operating at the peer, family/parental, school, and neighborhood/community levels influence substance use among urban American Indian youth in Arizona.  Using ecodevelopmental theory, the study documents the relative influence of factors at these different levels using a comprehensive model, tests how positive and negative family influences interact with those at other levels, and examines how they may operate differently in subgroups of urban American Indian youth defined by gender, grade level, and mixed or American Indian only heritage.  The research uses a 2012 state-wide survey of youth substance use with large numbers of urban American Indian youth (N=3,450) in 8th, 10th and 12th grade. The study contributes essential knowledge about how to target and deliver prevention interventions comprehensively by identifying issues faced by the growing majority of American Indian youth and their families who now live in urban areas.


  • Using latent class analysis (LCA), the research team identified distinctive patterns of substance use of 2,292 urban American Indian youth in the two largest metropolitan areas of Arizona. Results indicated that a 4-class LCA solution described their use of seven types of substances with the best model fit: (A) a large plurality of non-users (69%); (B) a substantial minority using alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana (17%); (C) a smaller group of polysubstance users consuming combinations of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, other illicit drugs, and prescription or OTC drugs (6%); and (D) and a group using tobacco, marijuana, and prescription drugs, but not alcohol (4%). 
  • The team documented how ecodevelopmental influences on urban American Indian youths’ use of substances form latent constructs that crystallize into parallel positive and negative factors at the family, peers, school and neighborhood levels. Two sets of these factors—negative family influences such as adult substance users in the family, and exposure to anti-social peers—are particularly strong predictors of alcohol, cigarette and marijuana use by the youths. Positive family and peer influences, such as parental attachment and involvement with prosocial peers, while having less direct influence, do significantly buffer or mitigate the negative effects of negative family and peer influences.


Kulis, S. S., Ayers, S. L., & Harthun, M. L. (2017). Substance Use Prevention for Urban American Indian Youth: A Efficacy Trial of the Culturally Adapted Living in 2 Worlds Program. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 38(1–2), 137–158. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10935-016-0461-4

Kulis, S. S., Jager, J., Ayers, S. L., Lateef, H. & Kiehne, E. (2016). Substance use profiles of urban American Indian adolescents: A latent class analysis. Substance Use and Misuse, 51(9), 1159-1173. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2016.1160125   Read online PMCID: PMC27191732

Other related publications

Napoli, M., Marsiglia, F. F., & Kulis, S. (2003). Sense of belonging to school as a protective factor against drug use among urban Southwest Native American pre-adolescents. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 3, 25-41. doi: 10.1300J160v03n02_03. Read online PMCID: PMC3045112

Okamoto, S. K., Kulis, S. S., Helm, S., Edwards, C., & Giroux, D. (2014). The social context of drug offers and their relationship to drug use of rural Hawaiian youth. The Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Use, 23(4), 242-252. doi: 10.1080/1067828X.2013.786937   Read online PMCID: PMC4029507

Okamoto, S. K., LeCroy, C. W., Dustman, P. A., Hohmann-Marriott, B., & Kulis, S. (2004). An ecological assessment of drug related problem situations for American Indian adolescents of the Southwest. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 4, 47-63. doi: 10.1300/J160v04n03_04. Read online PMCID: PMC3043617

Yabiku, S. T., Rayle, A. D., Okamoto, S. K., Marsiglia, F. F., & Kulis, S. (2007). The effect of neighborhood context on the drug use of American Indian youth of the Southwest. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 6, 181-204. Reprinted in P.L. Myers (Ed.), 21st century research on drugs and ethnicity: Studies supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NY: Haworth, 2007. doi: 10.1300/J233v06n02-11. Read online PMCID: PMC3045036