Two competing hypotheses were tested concerning the associations between current alcohol and cigarette use and measures of individual, group and network peer standing in an ethnically-diverse sample of 156 male and female adolescents sampled at two time points in the seventh grade. Findings lent greater support to the person hypothesis, with early regular substance users enjoying elevated standing amongst their peers and maintaining this standing regardless of their maintenance of or desistance from current use later in the school year. In the fall semester, users (n=20, 13%) had greater social impact, were described by their peers as more popular, and were more central to the peer network than abstainers (i.e., those who did not report current use). Conversely, in the spring semester, there were no differences between users (n=22, 13%) and abstainers in peer ratings of popularity or social impact. Notably, the spring semester users group retained fewer than half of the users from the fall semester. Further, students who had reported current use in the fall, as a group, retained their positions of elevated peer standing in the spring, compared to all other students, and continued to be rated by their peers as more popular and as having greater social impact. We discuss the findings in terms of the benefit of employing simultaneous systemic and individual measures of peer standing or group prominence, which in the case of peer-based prevention programs, can help clarify the truly influential from the "pretenders" in the case of diffusion of risk-related behaviors.
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