The Spread of Alcohol Consumption in a Large Social Network

This article examines whether the alcohol consumption behavior of individuals is influenced by the alcohol consumption of people in their social network. A more nuanced understanding of the relationship between social networks and alcohol consumption is important because alcohol has complex health ramifications, both negative and positive. While previous research has linked alcohol consumption patterns to interactions with friends and family members, this article uses social network research to examine these relationships.

The authors used information from 12,067 individuals who participated in the Framingham Heart Study between 1971 and 2003. They examined self-reported alcohol consumption and social network ties.

Key Findings:

  • The social network studied had clusters of drinkers and abstainers.
  • The drinking patterns of people within three degrees of separation of an individual appeared to influence the drinking patterns of the individual. That is, if alcohol consumption changed within an individual’s social network, the individual was significantly more likely to change his or her alcohol consumption than individuals in social networks without changes in consumption.
  • The alcohol consumption patterns of friends and family influenced individuals but the patterns of coworkers and neighbors did not appear to have an influence on individual drinking.
  • Women appeared to be significantly more likely to influence the drinking patterns of contacts in the social network than men.
  • These results echo previous literature that links social networks to individual markers of health, including obesity, smoking, happiness and depression.

This research suggests that social networks have a powerful influence on the alcohol consumption patterns of individuals. Public health interventions that seek to address aspects of alcohol consumption should consider incorporating group dynamics into their interventions.