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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