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Your Social Network Affects Your Drinking Habits
Date:4/5/2010

Heavy drinkers tend to have friends, relatives who also drink, study finds

MONDAY, April 5 (HealthDay News) -- People who socialize with heavy drinkers are more likely to imbibe a bit too much themselves.

And the same holds true for teetotalers: Those who have non-drinking friends and relatives are more likely not to consume alcohol themselves, a new study found.

"People are organized by their drinking behavior more than would be predicted by chance alone," said study lead author Dr. J. Niels Rosenquist, a research fellow in the departments of psychiatry and health-care policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "There appears to be clustering."

The effect, which may be just as great as family history and genetics, suggests that new interventions for alcohol abuse may be in order.

"In addition to working with individuals who are drinking more than is good for them, we need to come up with new ways to address this on more of a public health level, looking at groups of people and some of the settings in which they congregate and reinforce each other's drinking habits," said Dr. Ralph Manchester, director of the University Health Service at the University of Rochester in New York.

The study authors gathered data on more than 12,000 people who were participating in the long-running Framingham Heart Study. People were asked about their alcohol consumption and their social networks several times over a span of 30 years, from 1971 to 2003.

People whose friends or relatives drank heavily were 50 percent more likely to also drink heavily compared to people who weren't connected with heavy drinkers. And they were 36 percent more likely to consume a lot of alcohol if a friend of a friend was a heavy drinker, the study found.

There was even a measurable effect if a friend of a friend of a friend drank a lot -- in other words, three degrees of separation. '/>"/>

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