How Does a Person’s Social Network Affect Alcohol Use?

The term social network is most often associated with social media and popular culture. However, in psychological terms, a person’s social network is the group of individuals with whom they most associate. An individual’s friends, family members, coworkers, and associates influence their life in unique and varying ways. Adolescents are highly vulnerable to the negative and positive influences of peers, while older individuals may be more swayed by family members or professional mentors. Research has shown that negative outcomes from drugs and alcohol are related to social influences. Some evidence suggests that a person who uses alcohol is more likely to select friends who drink over those who do not. Other theories imply that individuals are more likely to drink if their friends do. This concept of selection versus socialization is of importance to clinicians who treat people with alcohol use problems. Understanding the risk factors for alcohol use can help mental health professionals design treatments that target those issues and teach a client how to develop new strategies.

In an effort to explore this idea further, Cathy Lau-Barraco of the Department of Psychology at Old Dominion University in Virginia led a study that evaluated the effects of socialization and selection in a sample of 1,347 newly married individuals. She followed the participants throughout their first 4 years of marriage and assessed how gender, peer influence, friend selection, and beliefs about alcohol affected alcohol use and alcohol problems. She found that although selection and socialization both influenced drinking outcomes, the peer influence of drinking beliefs was most evident in the men. As drinking buddies changed, so did the participants’ alcohol-related beliefs and alcohol use patterns. Cathy Lau-Barraco believes that interventions targeting alcohol-related beliefs, such as expectancy-challenge strategies, could be effective at transforming the way individuals look at alcohol and its effects. She said, “Future research efforts may focus on developing interventions capitalizing on the significance of specific network peers on alcohol use and challenging social-enhancement beliefs related to drinking.”

Lau-Barraco, C., Braitman, A. L., Leonard, K. E., & Padilla, M. (2012). Drinking buddies and their prospective influence on alcohol outcomes: Alcohol expectancies as a mediator. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028909

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  • BethAnn


    July 11th, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    As a recovering alcoholic I can say that I was very much influenced to begin drinking by the crowd that I hung out with in high school and college. I realize that they in no way forced me to start drinking but I was very motivated to do it when I started running around with them.
    It is so easy after that last binge to say never again, I never want to do this to myself again. Then you get around that same group of friends again and it starts all over. The pressure, and finally you give in and have another drink and another.
    At the age of 42 now I have lived with this since my teenage years and it is something that I will always have to deal with. I did finally cut those friends out of my life, but by this point in time I no longer needed the encouragement to drink. I had an addiction that compelled me to do it instead.

  • Vibgyor360


    July 11th, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    You can do both positive and negative things,pick up positive and negative habits.The urge is just amplified when you have like-minded friends.So surrounding oneself with a good set of friends cannot be stressed enough.One wrong group and you could be making the wrong decisions that will haunt you for the rest of your life!

  • jason h

    jason h

    July 11th, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    You have to know that who you hang with is always going to influence so many of the decisions that you make. The clothes that you wear, the music you listen to, and the bars you frequent. Goes kind of without saying that they are probably going to be the ones who determine how much you drink and how often. If you are confident in who you are then all of that doesn’t matter quite so much. But if you have some issues with your self esteem, then that is looking for someone to rule your decisions and the choices that you make.

  • Kourtney Allison

    Kourtney Allison

    July 12th, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    Although I hope to have the strength to stand up for my own beliefs and not drink when the time comes for me to do that!

  • MelissA


    July 12th, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    At least having drinking buddies to go out and grab a drink with is better than getting used to drinking alone and sinking in your misery…!

  • Molly


    July 13th, 2012 at 4:51 AM

    Melissa- I do think that its nice to have friends that you can go out with every once in a while and have a few drinks with and chill. But you know as well as I do that friends can be a little too persuasive at times, and if you don’t need to be drinking then there are certain friends that you will need to stay away from for a while.

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