Social Network Based Substance Abuse Prevention via Network Modification (a preliminary study)

Publication Date


Document Type


Organizational Units

Graduate School of Social Work


Multiagent systems, Social networks, Robust optimization


Substance use and abuse is a significant public health problem in the United States. Group-based intervention programs offer a promising means of preventing and reducing substance abuse. While effective, unfortunately, inappropriate intervention groups can result in an increase in deviant behaviors among participants, a process known as deviancy training. This paper investigates the problem of optimizing the social influence related to the deviant behavior via careful construction of the intervention groups. We propose a Mixed Integer Optimization formulation that decides on the intervention groups to be formed, captures the impact of the intervention groups on the structure of the social network, and models the impact of these changes on behavior propagation. In addition, we propose a scalable hybrid meta-heuristic algorithm that combines Mixed Integer Programming and Large Neighborhood Search to find near optimal network partitions. Our algorithm is packaged in the form of GUIDE, an AI-based decision aid that recommends intervention groups. Being the first quantitative decision aid of this kind, GUIDE is able to assist practitioners, in particular social workers, in three key areas: (a) GUIDE proposes near-optimal solutions that are shown, via extensive simulations, to significantly improve over the traditional qualitative practices for forming intervention groups; (b) GUIDE is able to identify circumstances when an intervention will lead to deviancy training, thus saving time, money, and effort; (c) GUIDE can evaluate current strategies of group formation and discard strategies that will lead to deviancy training. In developing GUIDE, we are primarily interested in substance use interventions among homeless youth as a high risk and vulnerable population. GUIDE is developed in collaboration with Urban Peak, a homeless youth serving organization in Denver, CO, and is under preparation for deployment.

Publication Statement

Copyright held by author or publisher. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

This document is currently not available here.