Peer relationships contribute to adolescents’ alcohol use, but the mechanisms are not fully known. Adolescents may influence each other’s attitudes; they may model each other’s behaviors; or they may spend time in unstructured socializing settings without adult supervisors present. In this paper, we considered all three potential sources of influence: attitudes, behaviors, and unstructured socializing. We also considered three different types of peers: friends, romantic partners, and romantic partners’ friends.
We used data from the PROSPER study, a longitudinal study of rural adolescents followed beginning in sixth grade. Each wave, adolescents nominated friends and romantic partners, and we used these data to determine friends’, romantic partners’, and romantic partner’s friends’ alcohol attitudes and behaviors. We used participant report of unstructured socializing with friends and romantic partners, and romantic partners’ reports for unstructured socializing with romantic partners’ friends.
Behavior: Adolescents were drunk more frequently in waves when their friends, romantic partners, and romantic partners’ friends were drunk more frequently. However, when all in the same model, only friends’ and romantic partners’ friends’ behaviors remained significant.
Attitudes: adolescents were drunk more frequently in waves when their friends, romantic partners, and romantic partners’ friends had more positive alcohol related attitudes. However, when all in the same model, only romantic partners’ attitudes remained significant.
Unstructured socializing: Unstructured socializing was not associated with adolescents’ drunkenness.However, there was an interaction with time for unstructured socializing with friends. Older adolescents increased their drunkenness frequency when they engaged in more frequent unstructured socializing with friends, but this association was not there at earlier ages. In addition, there was an interaction with gender and time for unstructured socializing of romantic partners with friends. Older girls increased their drunkenness frequency when their romantic partners engaged in more frequent unstructured socializing with friends.
Finding suggest that multiple peer relationships matter for alcohol use. Findings also indicate that the mechanisms differ by type of relationship. Friends’ and partners’ friends’ behavior seem to matter more than their attitudes. In contrast, romantic partners’ attitudes matter more than their behaviors. It may be that friends and partners’ friends serve as behavioral models, whereas romantic partners’ beliefs may have more influence. This difference may be because we limited friends to same sex friends, and partners to heterosexual partners, adolescents may model peers of the same sex, but, within a romantic context, adhere to the belief system of the other sex. Findings also suggest the increasing importance of unstructured socializing as a potential setting for dangerous levels of alcohol use.
“Adolescents’ friends, romantic partners, and romantic partners’ friends matter for alcohol use first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on September 18, 2018.”