Young adults drink more in the company of a heavy drinker

March 21, 2012

Young adults drink more alcohol if they are in the company of peers who drink heavily. NWO researcher Helle Larsen has scientifically confirmed this link for the first time by observing young adults in a research lab converted into a cafe. She defended her PhD thesis on 19 March 2012 at Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Larsen investigated the extent to which about 600 students imitated drinking behaviour in the company of . In a laboratory, students carried out various tasks in pairs such as assessing advertisements. Then they could take a break together in a bar that could not be distinguished from a real cafe. What the participants did not know was that the real experiment took place during the next 30 minutes. One of the two students was an actor and had been instructed beforehand to drink either one to three glasses of beer or wine or to opt for a soft drink. On average half of the study subjects opted for alcohol if the instructed actor took an alcoholic drink. If the actor drank more, then the participant consumed 2 to 3 times as much alcohol than in cases where the actor opted for or only took a single glass of alcohol. Furthermore, if both drank alcohol then the study subjects sippped their drink at the same time as the actor significantly more often than if one drunk alcohol and the other a soft drink.

Genetic predisposition

Larsen investigated several factors that could influence the imitation of the drinking behavior such as the participant's degree of stress, the relationship between the study subject and actor, and the gender of both. None of these factors were found to exert an influence. "The might be so dominating that it overshadows the other individual factors that could determine the alcohol consumption," explains Larsen. The researcher did, however, establish that students who have a specific variant of the gene DRD4 - which controls the in our brains - were more influenced by the actor to drink alcohol than the students who did not have this variant.

Major problems

For many young people in the Netherlands drinking alcohol is part of going out and spending time with each other. Almost 40% of men in the age group 18 to 24 years can be considered heavy drinkers. Heavy drinking can have many negative consequences ranging from aggressive and violent behaviour to traffic accidents and various health problems. Discovering what provokes to drink is therefore important. Subsequent research must clarify whether people imitate the alcohol use of another person because they are seen as a role model who sets the standard for the drinking of alcohol or whether the imitation is a subconscious cue. "It could be important to make people aware of the fact that they imitate the drinking behaviour of others in social situations,' warns Larsen. 'Increasing the awareness of processes underlying might help to prevent the development of undesirable drinking patterns."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.