Page last updated: June 5, 2017

Peer influence, peer selection and adolescent alcohol use

While studies suggest that peer influence can in some cases encourage adolescent substance use, recent work demonstrates that peer influence may be on average protective for cigarette smoking, raising questions about whether this effect occurs for other substance use behaviours.

Authors of a study published in the Journal Prevention Science, focus on adolescent drinking, which might follow different social dynamics than smoking. The researchers explore the impact of manipulating the size of peer influence and selection effects on drinking in two school-based networks using a data-calibrated Stochastic Actor-Based (SAB) Model of adolescent friendship tie choice and drinking behaviour.

Firstly, the researchers fitted a SAB Model to data on friendship tie choice and adolescent drinking behaviour within two large schools (n = 2178 and n = 976) over three time points using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. They then altered the size of the peer influence and selection parameters with all other effects fixed at their estimated values and simulate the social systems forward 1000 times under varying conditions.

Whereas peer selection appears to contribute to drinking behaviour similarity among adolescents, there is no evidence that it leads to higher levels of drinking at the school level. A stronger peer influence effect lowers the overall level of drinking in both schools. The authors find that there are many similarities in the patterning of findings between this study of drinking and previous work on smoking, suggesting that peer influence and selection may function similarly with respect to these substances.

Source: Peer Influence, peer selection and adolescent alcohol use: A simulation study using a dynamic network model of friendship ties and alcohol use.Wang, C, Hipp, JR, Butts, CT et al. Prev Sci (2017). First Online: 30 March 2017.


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