Analysis of data from the famous Framingham Heart Study showed that friends, relatives and others with whom you hang out with decide how much of alcohol you drink, if you drink alcohol. In this study, 12,067 people were followed up for more than 30 years to study the association between lifestyle habits and various diseases.
While studying the drinking habits, researchers looked at the self-reported alcohol intake of various participants and their social contacts. The results clearly showed that a person has 50% more chances of being a heavy drinker if a friend is a heavy drinker. The person is 36% more likely to drink heavily if the friend of a friend is a heavy drinker.
According to Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at Harvard University, this finding shows the influence of friends and other people on the health and this influence is as much as family history or genetic background. With respect to alcohol intake, social surroundings of a person may have both positive and negative influences, depending on the consequences.
The results of the study very clearly showed that the alcohol intake of participants changed over a period of time with their contacts. This influence may have implications in many clinical and health interventions. Thus, social networks could be used to develop more positive health behaviors and support group interventions. According to Christakis, drinking is a public health and clinical problem that involves a group of interconnected people who evince shared behaviors.
In the Framingham Heart Study participants were asked to report about alcohol consumption periodically between 1971 and 2003. The data was later analyzed to look at the pattern between the participants drinking habits, and its influence on others in the social networks.
The results showed that:
- Drinkers had social contacts with people who drank similar amounts
- Non-drinkers had friends who do not drink
- Neighbors and co-workers did not influence drinking as much as friends and relatives
The researchers feel that the findings are important as alcohol consumption influences the health. Alcohol intake may also depend on genes and other biological factors. It is the social factors that generally make people worry when their children have friends who drink. Some studies have shown that in addition to alcohol consumption, smoking, obesity, and sexually transmitted disease also travel in social networks.