Friends and Family Affect Your Drinking Habits

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A new study finds that people with friends or relatives who drink heavily are more likely to drink heavily themselves, while those whose friends and family don't drink are also more likely not to drink.

The Study

Data on more than 12,000 people, taken several times over the course of 3 decades, was analyzed in order to examine the relationship between drinking and social networks. The results, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that people were 50% more likely to drink heavily if they had friends or relatives who were heavy drinkers. They were 36% more likely to be heavy drinkers if a friend of a friend drank a lot--even three degrees of separation (a friend of a friend of a friend) increased the likelihood a person would drink heavily.

In general, surrounding yourself with heavy drinkers was associated with a 70% increase in the amount of alcohol consumed, while hanging out with people who abstain from alcohol decreased alcohol consumption by half.

Why Is This Important?

There are many factors associated with alcoholism, and the more we know the better able we are to treat it. This new study suggests that the effect of social networks on drinking behavior may be as great as that of family history and genetics, both of which have been shown to influence the development of alcoholism. These results lend credence to the advice of alcohol treatment programs like Alcoholics Anonymous to distance yourself from people with drinking problems as part of treatment for alcoholism.

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