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Position in Social Networks May Predict Adolescent Alcohol Use

Having more popular, more connected friends who drink ups adolescent risk of alcohol use onset

FRIDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Adolescents who begin drinking alcohol have more friends and friends of friends who drink, are closer in their social network to more popular people, and interact with more friends and friends of friends compared to adolescents who don't drink, according to a study published in the September issue of Academic Pediatrics.

Marlon P. Mundt, Ph.D., from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and colleagues investigated the effects of various social network characteristics on alcohol use onset in 2,610 adolescents in grades seven through 11 who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in 1995-1996. Risk of alcohol use initiation at one-year follow-up among nondrinkers was modeled using generalized estimating equations at wave one of the study.

The investigators found that alcohol use among friends, and social network characteristics were independently associated with alcohol initiation among adolescents. Adolescents who began drinking had more popular friends (measured by peer nominations as friends [indegree]), more friends who were up to three steps removed (three-step reach), and more friends who drank, compared to adolescents who abstained. After adjusting for confounders, every additional friend with high indegree, every additional 10 friends within three-step reach, and each additional friend who drank alcohol raised an adolescent's risk of alcohol use onset by 13, 3, and 34 percent, respectively.

"In addition to well-established demographic risk factors, adolescents are at heightened risk of alcohol use onset because of their position in the social network in relationship to their friends and the friends of their friends," the authors write.

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