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Spread of Alcohol Use in a Large Social Network FREE

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The summary below is from the full report titled “The Spread of Alcohol Consumption Behavior in a Large Social Network.” It is in the 6 April 2010 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 152, pages 426-433). The authors are J.N. Rosenquist, J. Murabito, J.H. Fowler, and N.A. Christakis.

Ann Intern Med. 2010;152(7):I-36. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-152-7-201004060-00003
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What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

The amount of alcohol people drink influences their health. How often people drink alcohol and the amount they drink depends on genes and other biological factors, as well as social factors, such as the drinking behaviors of one's contacts. These social factors are in part why parents often worry when their children have friends who use alcohol. It is also why some alcohol treatment programs advise people with alcohol problems to avoid settings that typically invite drinking. Recent research has shown how other health issues associated with behavior (such as smoking, obesity, and sexually transmitted diseases) travel in social networks.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

To describe how alcohol drinking behaviors spread among persons in social networks.

Who was studied?

12 067 persons who were participating in a large, ongoing study of heart disease in Framingham, Massachusetts, and persons whom they identified as social contacts.

How was the study done?

From 1971 through 2003, participants were asked at several points how much alcohol they drank. The researchers looked for patterns between how much a person drank and how much his or her social contacts drank.

What did the researchers find?

Drinkers were more likely to have social contacts who drank similar amounts. Also, nondrinkers were more likely to have friends and relatives who were nondrinkers. Neighbors' and coworkers' drinking habits were not as strongly associated with a person's drinking habits as were the drinking habits of friends and relatives. A person's drinking behavior also seemed to change over time if the drinking behavior of his or her social contacts changed.

What were the limitations of the study?

The researchers did not study the health effects of alcohol, just how much people drank.

What are the implications of the study?

If alcohol use spreads in social networks, public health strategies to encourage responsible alcohol use should consider focusing on groups rather than individuals.





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