Too Much Alcohol? Friends May Be to Blame
Friends, Relatives Play a Part in How Much Alcohol You Drink, Study Finds
WebMD News Archive
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
“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
“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:
- Drinkers were more likely to have social contacts who drank similar
- Nondrinkers were more likely to have friends and relatives who didn’t
- The drinking habits of neighbors and co-workers weren’t as strongly
associated with a person’s drinking habits, compared to friends and
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
But the social factors, the researchers say, explain why parents often worry
if they think their children have friends who drink.
Recent research also has shown that smoking, obesity, and sexually
transmitted diseases also travel in social networks.
According to the study:
- 55% of adults reported in 2002 that they had at least one drink in the
- 62% of men gave that answer; 48% of women.
- A friend or family member is as likely to sway a person one way or another
whether he or she lives hundreds of miles away or next door.
- Heavy drinking by husbands and wives increases the odds that spouses will
drink heavily, too.
- Female contacts are significantly more likely than males to influence the
spread of heavy alcohol consumption.