Newswise — Heavy-drinking peer groups increase young adults’ desire to drink, according to a study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Investigators used behavioral economic theory — the science of how people make choices — to assess motivations for consuming alcohol among a diverse sample of young adult drinkers. Young adults’ motivation to drink alcohol, as well as their likelihood of misusing it, is associated with how it is consumed within their social networks. But it is not well understood how these factors influence each other, and how those effects may vary depending on sex, race, and education level. For example, does the culture of heavy drinking in US colleges drive the high demand for alcohol there, or is alcohol demand high among young adults generally?

Investigators used data from 602 heavy drinking young adults at a single point in time in a city in the southern USA. To assess participants’ demand for alcohol, they used a behavioral economic “alcohol demand curve” task that asked how much participants would drink across a range of prices. Participants also completed questionnaires about their own alcohol misuse, in addition to their impressions of the alcohol use of the four people with whom they spent the most recreational time. Researchers used statistical analysis to explore the links between and overlap among these factors and demographic data.

Participants reported an average of 17 drinks per week and 12 alcohol-related problems during the previous month. Almost seven in ten reported that three or more of their four companions had a binge drinking episode in the past month. The analyses suggest that heavy alcohol use in social networks drives individuals’ alcohol demand and (indirectly) misuse. High alcohol use in the social network was driven by binge drinkers, rather than more drinkers, suggesting that the way alcohol is consumed in a social group is key to increasing individuals’ motivation to drink. The results suggest that interventions targeting individuals’ alcohol demand may diffuse through social groups and influence peers as well. Social network interventions may also have positive trickle-down effects in terms of reducing individuals’ motivation for alcohol. Further, the data suggest that, although alcohol use tends to increase in college, degree attainment is overall associated with reduced alcohol use in adulthood.

These findings are consistent with previous research on how alcohol use relates to peer pressure, social status, and other factors. The investigators recommend longitudinal studies to explore ways that the social network affects alcohol demand unfold over time.

Integrating Behavioral Economic and Social Network Influences in Understanding Alcohol Misuse in a Diverse Sample of Emerging Adults. S. Acuff, J. MacKillop, J. Murphy (pages xxx)


Journal Link: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research