From Our 2010 Archives
Too Much Alcohol? Friends May Be to Blame
Friends, Relatives Play a Part in How Much Alcohol You Drink, Study Finds
Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD
April 5, 2010 -- The people you hang out with play a big role in determining how much booze you drink -- or if you drink alcohol at all.
The finding comes from a study based on data mined from the Framingham Heart Study, which followed 12,067 people for more than 30 years, looking at lifestyle habits for clues to the causes of various diseases.
Researchers examined self-reported alcohol intake and looked at the drinking habits of their social contacts.
A key finding was that a person is 50% more likely to drink heavily if they are directly connected to a heavy drinker. And the researchers found that a person is 36% more likely to drink heavily if a friend of a friend is a heavy drinker.
"We've found that the influence of your friends and people you have connections with can affect your health just as much as your family history or your genetic background," Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at Harvard University, says in a news release. "With regard to alcohol consumption, your social network may have both positive and negative health consequences, depending on the circumstances."
In the study, self-reported alcohol intake over time followed changes in the alcohol intake of the respondents' social contacts.
The researchers say this social phenomena could have other implications for clinical and health interventions. For instance, social networks could be used to exploit positive health behaviors and further support group interventions.
"Our findings reinforce the idea that drinking is a public health and clinical problem that involves groups of interconnected people who evince shared behaviors," says Christakis, author of the study. "In treating individuals for problematic drinking, we need to look at their social networks to identify and eliminate obstacles to abstaining."
Social Networks Affect Drinking Habits
Participants in the Framingham study were asked periodically between 1971 and 2003 how much alcohol they drank. Then they looked for patterns between how much a person drank and how much his or her social contacts imbibed.
Among the findings:
The researchers say the study is important because the amount of alcohol people drink influences their health.
How often people drink and the amount can also depend on genes and other biological factors.
But the social factors, the researchers say, explain why parents often worry if they think their children have friends who drink.
According to the study:
SOURCES: News release, Annals of Internal Medicine.