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Having Boys as Friends Can Boost Young Girls' Drinking Risk

Study in twins finds a strong link

MONDAY, Dec. 17 (HealthDay News) -- For girls, especially, having friends of the opposite sex during adolescence can raise the likelihood for alcohol use.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University analyzed data on 4,700 twins in Finland.

They focused on the association between friendship characteristics and alcohol use and the extent to which genetic and/or environmental factors influenced similarity in drinking behaviors among adolescents and their friends.

"Our findings suggest that girls may be more susceptible to their friends' drinking and that having opposite-sex friends who drink is also associated with increased drinking," corresponding author Danielle Dick, now of Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a prepared statement. Dick was an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis at the time of the study.

"Furthermore, genetically based analyses suggest that the correlation between adolescent/friend drinking was largely attributable to shared environmental effects across genders," Dick said.

Parents need to be aware of their children's friends and how they spend their time together. "This awareness is particularly important for girls, and when the friendship group consists of members of the opposite sex," Dick said.

The study is published in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Those who design and implement [drinking] prevention approaches should take gender into account as a potentially critical moderator of prevention outcomes," Kenneth J. Sher, Curators' Professor in the department of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, said in a prepared statement.

"We need to better understand the 'why' of sex differences in risk in order to shed important light on the nature of risk processes," Sher said. "For example, are girls potentially more 'vulnerable' to peer-related effects at this stage of life because they are likely to be more intimately involved with their closest friends that are boys? That is, does gender simply serve as a 'proxy' of a variable such as intimacy or closeness during this time of their lives?"

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about kids and alcohol.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, December 2007

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