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Peer Networks among Heavy, Regular and Infrequent Drinkers prior to Marriage

Kenneth E. Leonard, Jill Kearns, Pamela Mudar

Objective: Research has consistently demonstrated that, among adolescents, the characteristics of one's peers are important predictors of substance abuse. The impact of the peer network on adult drinking, however, has received considerably less attention. The purpose of the present study was to examine social network characteristics that are associated with heavy drinking in adulthood prior to marriage. Method: Couples were recruited at the time of their first marriage. Husbands and wives were each given identical questionnaire packets to complete at home, independently, as well as a postage-paid envelope for packet return. A broad range of constructs was assessed; included were personality characteristics, relationship functioning, drinking behavior and social network characteristics. Complete data were obtained from 471 husbands and 471 wives. Results: The social networks of heavy-drinking men, compared to men drinking regularly or infrequently, were younger, more likely to be male and unmarried and consisted of friends rather than family or others. For both men and women, drinking buddies accounted for nearly 75% of the heavy drinkers' peer networks. The overall ratings of support and conflict created by peers did not differ according to drinking group, for either men or women. Conclusions: Prior to marriage, the social networks of heavy drinkers differ considerably from the networks of regular or infrequent drinkers with regard to the drinking patterns of their peers. An important finding was that heavy drinkers appear to experience a similar level of emotional, financial and practical support from their peer network compared to regular or infrequent drinkers. (J. Stud. Alcohol 61: 669-673, 2000.