The researchers also found in general that being surrounded by heavy drinkers increased the reported alcohol consumption by about 70 percent, while being surrounded by abstainers decreased reported alcohol consumption by half.
While drinking habits of friends and relatives did influence individuals, how nearby neighbors and co-workers conducted themselves did not.
The study findings are published in the April 6 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.
Previous studies have found similar ripple effects for weight gain, smoking, happiness and depression, but, unlike alcohol, these went only one way. For example, if an individual was around people who gain weight, that individual was more likely to pack on pounds as well.
"There seems to be sort of a social transmission, and this fits into that broader pattern," said Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at New York University School of Medicine.
And the social-transmission factor seems to be stronger among females, though it's not clear why.
"The gender of your friend is significant, meaning that if you have two friends, male and female, and the male started drinking heavily, that would be less likely to affect you than if a female started drinking heavily," said Rosenquist.
The question then is what could be the reason for that, Rosenquist said.
"This is pure speculation at this point, but it may be something to do with social norms by gender," he added. "For example, women tend to drink less under certain social norms and, if they start drinking heavily, it may be more noticeable among groups of friends and colleagues and may have a bigger effect on their drinking behavior than if a male started drinking heavily."
Of course, some people have long suspected that heavy drinking could travel in social circles.
"We know from alcoholism treatment that you want to stay awa
All rights reserved