Early Friendships Drive Teens to Drink

By Chrisanne Grise 01/29/13

Kids whose friends give them alcohol are more likely to abuse it later on, a study finds.

The first drink can make a difference.
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Early friendships may influence teen drinking patterns more than any other factor, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers at the University of Iowa found that kids whose friends drink tend to start drinking at a younger age, which prior studies show boosts their chances for adult alcohol abuse. “When you start drinking, even with kids who come from alcoholic families, they don’t get their first drinks from their family,” says study author Samuel Kuperman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Iowa. “They get their first drinks from their friends. They have to be able to get it. If they have friends who have alcohol, then it’s easier for them to have that first drink.” After examining the drinking habits of 820 teenagers from across the country, the researchers determined the most important predictors of future boozing habits to be: disruptive behavior, a family history of alcohol dependence, poor social skills, and the drinking habits of friends. And of all these factors, they found the drinking habits of friends exerted the most influence: a teen whose friend drinks and has access to alcohol is three times as likely to start drinking as well. “Family history doesn’t necessarily drive the age of first drink,” Kuperman says. “It’s access. At that age (14 or 15), access trumps all. As they get older, then family history plays a larger role.” Underage drinking is becoming increasingly common; one-third of eighth graders in the US have tried alcohol, according to a 2011 study by the University of Michigan.

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.