The spread of alcohol consumption behavior in a large social network

January 01, 0001

The spread of alcohol consumption behavior in a large social network

This longitudinal cohort study by US authors explored quantitatively whether alcohol consumption behavior spreads from person to person in a large social network of friends, coworkers, siblings, spouses, and neighbors, followed for 32 years, 1971-2003. Participants were 12,067 persons from the Framingham Heart Study. Self-reported alcohol consumption (number of drinks per week on average over the past year and number of days drinking within the past week) and social network ties, were measured repeatedly over time.

They found: "Clusters of drinkers and abstainers were present in the network at all time points, and the clusters extended to 3 degrees of separation. These clusters were not only due to selective formation of social ties among drinkers but also seem to reflect interpersonal influence. Changes in the alcohol consumption behavior of a person's social network had a statistically significant effect on that person's subsequent alcohol consumption behavior. The behaviors of immediate neighbors and coworkers were not significantly associated with a person's drinking behavior, but the behavior of relatives and friends was… {I}t is unclear whether the effects on long-term health are positive or negative, because alcohol has been shown to be both harmful and protective."

The authors concluded: "Network phenomena seem to influence alcohol consumption behavior. This has implications for clinical and public health interventions and further supports group-level interventions to reduce problematic drinking."

This study raises more questions than it answers and the topic deserves further investigation.

For the full abstract, click here.

Ann Intern Med 152(7):426-433, 6 April 2010
© 2010 to the American College of Physicians
The Spread of Alcohol Consumption Behavior in a Large Social Network. J. Niels Rosenquist, Joanne Murabito, James H. Fowler, and Nicholas A. Christakis. Correspondence to Dr. Fowler:

Category: Z. Social Problems. Keywords: alcohol consumption, social network, interpersonal influence, cohort study, journal watch.
Synopsis edited by Dr Linda French, Toledo, Ohio. Posted on Global Family Doctor 20 April 2010 2010

Pearls are an independent product of the Cochrane primary care group and are meant for educational use and not to guide clinical care.