According to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, the flagship journal of the American College of Physicians, the drinking habits of the people in your extended social group play a major role in determining your own rate of alcohol consumption.
Researchers used data from the landmark Framingham Heart Study which followed 12,067 people for more than 30 years and helped to define the patterns in social networks of other health issues such as obesity, smoking, and sexually transmitted diseases. In this analysis, the researchers sought to explore patterns of alcohol use in a large social network.
"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," said Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine at Harvard University and lead author of the study. "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 found that a person was 50 percent more likely to drink heavily if a person they are directly connected with also drinks heavily and 36 percent more likely to drink heavily if a friend of a friend drinks heavily. The impact extended up to three degrees of separation. The researchers suggest this social phenomena could have other implications for clinical and health interventions. 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," said Christakis. "In treating individuals for problematic drinking, we need to look at their social networks to identify and eliminate obstacles to abstaining."
- J. Niels Rosenquist, Joanne Murabito, James H. Fowler, Nicholas A. Christakis. The Spread of Alcohol Consumption Behavior in a Large Social Network. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2010; 152: 426-433 [link]
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