Teenage alcohol consumption is among one of the biggest concerns for parents as well as a major public health concern. A study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2000 had shown that among the youths surveyed, one third stated that they began to drink at the age of 13. Previous study had shown that alcohol consumption during adolescent can result in many serious health problems, such as type II diabetes, coronary artery disease, cardiac arrhythmias, and strokes. In addition, while being hazardous to one’s health, teen drinking also associates with behavioural problems, such as poor performance in school, violence, delinquency, and unfortunately, suicide.
A recent study about the effect of social network and its correlation with adolescent alcohol consumption done by Mir M. Ali, a professor of the Department of Economics at the University of Toledo, and Debra S. Dwyer of the School of Health, Technology & Management and Department of Economics at Stoney Brook University, displays results that would help determine which areas future interventions should focus on to be more cost-effective.
They talk about three social behavioural effects and the effectiveness of interventions in each case. First, there is the endogenous effect, which in other words is the monkey see monkey do effect, an individual does things because others in the reference group or social network are doing it. In this case, intervention of some of the members of the group can be very effective since others will mirror their actions. Another one is the exogenous or contextual effect, which is when the contributing factor of an individual comes from outside its reference group. For example a kid drinks because his or her parents do. If a community includes a lot of family cases like the example, the kids whose parent do not drink will very likely start to drink as well because of their peers. If this were the case, targeting a few individuals will not be very effective because in certain family cases, the alcoholic parents will continue to drink. The last effect Ali and Dwyer talk about is the correlated effect. This is when the individuals in a group behave the same because there are “similar unobserved characteristics” between them or “face similar institutional characteristics”. Due to the unseen characteristics, if an individual of the group decided to stop drinking, it is very unlikely for the others to do the same since there are other things driving them to drink in the first place.
In the study, Ali and Dwyer used data provided from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent. The data consist information from 90 000 kids from 132 school across the United States from grade 7 to 12 in 1994. The kids were asked a series of questions about their own drinking habits which indicated whether or not they drink or not, if so the frequency or intensity of their alcohol consumption. They were also asked to answer the same questions about their closest friends and general peers of the same grade level, most of whom were also participants in the survey. 20 745 of the 90 000 kids were also interviewed in their homes in order to collect data on parents and various factor of the kids’ grounds. Follow up surveys was done in 1996 and 2002 on the in home interviews.
By collecting all these datas and the mathematical formula they produced, Ali and Dwyer were able to see how all three social behavioural effects affect the drinking habits of the percipients.
The results of their datas are as followed:
- 10% increase in close friends drinking will increase the likelihood drinking by more than 2%
- 10% increase in drinking among grade-level peers is associated with a 4% increase in individual drinking.
- Intensity of frequency of drinking is highly correlated with peer drinking and the effect is larger for grade-level peers.
- Adolescents who are White and Hispanic are more likely to participate in drinking whereas adolescents who are Black.
- Among parent level easy access to alcohol at home has the greatest drinking behaviours and that parent drinking increases the likelihood of being a drinker by 0.7% on average.
- Living in a two parent household and having parents with at least a college degree decreases the participation and frequency of drinking while having both parents who work fulltime outside the home positively related with drinking.
(Ali and Dwyer, 2010)
With their results, Ali and Dwyer suggested that public health intervention might be fruitful at the school levels since peers have the greatest influence on adolescent alcohol consumption and that the influence of grade-level peers may amplify the effect of interventions.
Ali, M.M., Dwyer, D. S. (2010). Social network effects in alcohol consumption among adolescents, Addicted Behaviours, 35(4), 337-342.