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Socializing with Heavy Drinkers Increases Alcohol Consumption

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The amount of alcohol you consume seems to be directly related to the drinking habits of your social group, according to a new study.

HealthDay News reported April 5 that researchers focused on data from 12,000 participants in the Framingham Heart Study, who were asked about their drinking and social networks over the 30-year span of the study. They found that those who had friends or relatives who drank heavily were 50 percent more likely to drink heavily themselves.

Moreover, even three degrees of separation — having friends of friends who drank heavily — appeared to influence individual alcohol consumption.

The opposite also was true — people who were friends with abstinent individuals were less likely to drink themselves. The results only held true for family and friends, however, not coworkers or nearby neighbors.

“We know from alcoholism treatment that you want to stay away from people who have drinking problems if you have a drinking problem,” said alcohol researcher Marc Galanter of the New York University School of Medicine. “AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] says just to sever your ties with those people to be sure that you stay abstinent.”

“In addition to working with individuals who are drinking more than is good for them, we need to come up with new ways to address this on more of a public health level, looking at groups of people and some of the settings in which they congregate and reinforce each other's drinking habits,” added Ralph Manchester, director of the University Health Service at the University of Rochester in New York.

The findings were published in the April 6, 2010 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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