Binge drinking is a growing problem among adolescents and a new study highlights the way such behaviour may spread. Researchers found that it’s not only whom the young person is dating that can influence drinking habits, but — even more — who the date gets around with.
“Dating someone whose friends are big drinkers is more likely to cause an adolescent to engage in dangerous drinking behaviors than are the drinking habits of the adolescent’s own friends or romantic partner,” said Derek Kreager, lead author of the study and an associate professor of crime, law, and justice at Pennsylvania State University. “This applies to both binge drinking and drinking frequency.”
The odds of binge drinking are twice as high in such circumstances.
Why would that be, exactly?
“The friends of a partner are likely to be very different from the adolescent and his or her friends and they might also be, at least a little, different from the partner,” said Kreager, who coauthored the study with Dana A. Haynie, a sociology professor at Ohio State University. “Adolescents are motivated to be more like their partner’s friends in an effort to strengthen their relationship with their partner.”
Of course, the same dynamics could work to discourage drinking if the boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s circle are non-drinkers or light drinkers. But because adolescents tend to start dating people outside their own friendship group — usually of the same gender — they don’t know in advance.
One lesson from this seems to be the importance of what kind of socialising takes place among young people before the question of dating even arises. The family, school, clubs and churches can foster mixed social events that expand young people’s social circle, delay pairing off and provide a better basis for doing so in the longer run.
Two interesting facts to finish. In spite of reports that show girls are binge drinking more and more, the study found that “girls are significantly less likely than their male partners to binge drink… Moreover, our research suggests that, if anything, males are more susceptible to a significant other’s influence than are girls.”
In other words, girls can influence their boyfriends — one way or the other.