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25 May 2012

Drinking Teen Seeks Drinking Teen

Keywords: alcohol, peers, teens, Western Europe, health, media, social media, survey,

Teen friends often have similar drinking behaviors. Do drinking teens seek friends who drink, or do drinking friends influence teens’ drinking? It depends on their age, a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs shows. The researchers followed teens’ social networks during several years and found that the younger children (9-11 y/o) selected friends with similar drinking behaviors. Older teens (12-18 y/o) influenced each others’ drinking. Similarities in drinking peaked in middle adolescence (12-14 y/o), suggesting that this group is the most vulnerable to peer influence when it comes to drinking.

Take aways

  • Young children who drink alcohol select friends who also drink.
  • From age 12, teens’ alcohol use is influenced by their friends’ drinking behaviors.
  • Younger boys (< 12 y/o) and older girls (> 14 y/o) are most vulnerable to peer influence concerning drinking.
  • Teens who drink are more popular, but only in middle adolescence (12-14 y/o).

Study information

  • The question?

    Are their similarities in drinking behaviors in social networks of teens of different ages? And if so, does that mean that drinking teens seek friends who drink or that having drinking friends influences drinking behavior?

  • Who?

    950 9- to 18-year olds (53% boys, 47% girls).

  • Where?


  • How?

    The researchers visited all public schools in a midsize Swedish town and studied the social networks of grades 4, 7, and 10. Once a year, during three consecutive years, the pupils were asked to list their friends and to answer some questions about their alcohol use (e.g., number of times having been drunk). Then, the researchers compared the social networks to the drinking behaviors. Because the study lasted for several years, the researchers could answer the “chicken-or-egg” question.

Facts and findings

  • Teens of all ages selected friends with similar drinking behaviors.
  • This similarity was highest for:
    • 12- to 14-year-olds
    • the younger boys (< age 12)
    • the older girls (˃ age 15)
  • From the age of 12, the drinking behavior of friends influenced teens’ alcohol use. 
  • Remarkable fact: Drinking teens were very popular, but only between the ages of 12 and 14.