Peer network drinking predicts increased alcohol use from adolescence to early adulthood after controlling for genetic and shared environmental selection

Dev Psychol. 2012 Sep;48(5):1390-402. doi: 10.1037/a0027515. Epub 2012 Mar 5.


Research consistently links adolescents' and young adults' drinking with their peers' alcohol intake. In interpreting this correlation, 2 essential questions are often overlooked. First, which peers are more important, best friends or broader social networks? Second, do peers cause increased drinking, or do young people select friends whose drinking habits match their own? The present study combines social network analyses with family (twin and sibling) designs to answer these questions via data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Analysis of peer nomination data from 134 schools (n = 82,629) and 1,846 twin and sibling pairs shows that peer network substance use predicts changes in drinking from adolescence into young adult life even after controlling for genetic and shared environmental selection, as well as best friend substance use. This effect was particularly strong for high-intensity friendships. Although the peer-adolescent drinking correlation is partially explained by selection, the present finding offers powerful evidence that peers also cause increased drinking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking / genetics*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Friends
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Peer Group*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Siblings
  • Social Support*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Twins / genetics
  • Twins / psychology
  • Young Adult