Social Network Affects Individuals' Drinking Behavior

Behavior of relatives and friends significantly associated with a person's alcohol consumption
By Eric Metcalf
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 6 (HealthDay News) -- Changes in alcohol consumption behavior within a person's social network affect that individual's own alcohol consumption behavior, which supports the role of group-level interventions in addressing problem drinking, according to research published in the April 6 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

J. Niels Rosenquist, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues analyzed data from 12,067 individuals participating in the Framingham Heart Study. The researchers assessed the participants' self-reported alcohol use and social ties at several points between 1971 and 2003.

The researchers found clusters of drinkers and abstainers at all the time points, which extended to three degrees of separation. Clusters appeared to reflect the selective creation of social ties between drinkers, as well as influence between individuals. Changes in drinking behavior in a social network significantly affected individuals' later alcohol consumption. The behavior of relatives and friends was significantly associated with a person's drinking behavior, but the behavior of immediate neighbors and coworkers was not.

"Our results support the basic idea that because persons are connected, their health is also connected," the authors conclude. "Our findings also reinforce the idea that drinking is a public health and clinical problem that involves groups of interconnected people who evince shared behaviors, and targeting these behaviors would rightly involve addressing groups and not just individuals."

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