Genetic and Environmental Factors Link to Peer Drinking

peer-drinkingThe use of alcohol amongst teenagers is a common occurrence, which, left unchecked can lead to a series of problems down the road. How adolescents engage with alcohol has long thought to be related to one’s peer’s relation with alcohol. New research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the link between one’s own drinking and peer drinking, Medical News Today reports.

Researchers analyzed data from a sample of 1,790 men, provided through structured clinical interviews. The study authors played close attention to the participants’ retrospective reports of their own drinking and their peers’ alcohol-related behaviors from the age of 12 to 25 years, according to the report.

“Peers can influence adolescent drinking in different ways,” said Alexis C. Edwards, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University as well as corresponding author for the study. “Peer pressure can work in both directions: some kids feel pressured, others are the ones exerting the pressure for whatever reason. Peer pressure doesn’t have to be explicit; kids can perceive pressure that’s never verbalized. Another way that peers can influence drinking is simply by providing access to alcohol. Furthermore, adolescent drinking behavior often occurs in the context of peer groups rather than in solitary situations. Therefore, it’s important not to overlook the role that choice plays in all these scenarios: to varying extents, kids select which peers they hang out with, which in turn has consequences for alcohol use.”

“We have access to a rich twin dataset that uniquely allows us to tease apart the complicated relationships of peer selection and peer influence, all in the context of genetic and environmental influences underlying behavior,” said Edwards. “We examined men simply because we only had the necessary data for men. It would be very interesting to see if the same patterns hold among women, because there are some differences in drinking behaviors across the sexes.”

As the twins aged the researchers saw an increase in the influence of genetic factors and a corresponding decrease in the influence of shared environmental factors.

“The increase in the relevance of genetic factors is pretty typical,” said Edwards. “As we age and gain more autonomy, our behavior is driven more by our own genetic liabilities and we are less influenced by the familial environment.”

The findings will be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.