New research suggests that adolescents -- perhaps in an effort to draw closer to their girlfriends or boyfriends -- are more likely to drink if they are dating someone whose friends are big drinkers.
The influence of these friends "is more likely to cause an adolescent to engage in dangerous drinking behaviors than are the drinking habits of the adolescent’s own friends or romantic partner,” said Derek Kreager, lead author of the study and an associate professor of crime, law, and justice at Pennsylvania State University.
“Adolescents are motivated to be more like their partner’s friends in an effort to strengthen their relationship with their partner," he explained.
The research, published in the October issue of American Sociological Review, was based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey of students in grades seven through 12 in the mid-1990s. The odds of binge drinking by an adolescent more than doubled if dating someone whose friends were big drinkers -- compared to if their friends or romantic partners were drinkers.
The researchers also reported an opposite effect: an adolescent drinker was likely to cut alcohol consumption if dating someone whose friends weren't drinkers. The results held up for boys and girls, though they suggested that boys could be more influenced by the drinking habits of their girlfriends' friends.
Underlying the study is the fact that adolescent and teen couples often emerge from different friendship circles, exposing the young adults to new people and new social outlets -- both good and bad.
The research offers a new dilemma for parents -- that it's equally important to know the friends of their teens' boyfriends or girlfriends and what peer pressure they might create. (Parents of teens: Do you feel the need to know the friends of your kids' romantic interests? Reply in the comments.) Of course, the warning also comes amid continued good news in Minnesota about teen alcohol consumption. The self-reported rates of alcohol use by Minnesota students has sharply declined over the past 20 years, according to the Minnesota Student Survey.