Majority doesn’t always rule in teen booze use

Having one abstainer as a friend cuts adolescents’ odds of drinking

Beer mugs

CHEERS FOR PEERS  The presence of a small minority of alcohol abstainers in groups of teen friends can help to decrease the likelihood that everyone else will get drunk and binge drink, a new analysis suggests. 


Peer pressure doesn’t always drive teenagers to drink. In fact, a non-imbibing adolescent can have a sobering effect on his or her alcohol-drinking friends, a new study suggests.

Having a single nondrinking friend cuts down by 38 percent instances of drunkenness among teen drinkers with a majority of like-minded friends, say criminologist Carter Rees, now at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and sociologist Danielle Wallace of Arizona State University in Phoenix. Nonboozing teens with a majority of drinking friends are also far less apt to follow suit in the next year and end up getting drunk and binge drinking if they have one or two non-imbibing buddies, compared with being a group’s lone abstainer. The researchers report the findings October 13 in Social Science & Medicine.

Rees and Wallace analyzed data obtained in 1994 and 1995 from a national sample of 4,765 middle and high school students. About half of teen drinkers with a majority of alcohol-using friends had at least one abstaining pal.

It’s unclear whether a comparable proportion of teen drinkers today have any alcohol-free friends. A 2013 study found that public school kids in Iowa and Pennsylvania tracked from sixth to ninth grade, beginning in 2002 and 2003, preferred alcohol drinkers as friends, which contributed to these youngsters’ booze use.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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