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Social Network Characteristics and Heavy Episodic Drinking Among Women at Risk for HIV/Sexually Transmitted Infections

Melissa A. Davey-Rothwell, Geetanjali Chander, Laura Hester, Carl A. Latkin

Objective: Social networks can either negatively or positively influence a variety of behaviors, including alcohol use. This study examined social network characteristics that are risk factors for and protective factors against heavy episodic drinking among a sample of women at risk for HIV/sexually transmitted infections. Method: This was a cross-sectional study using baseline data from 567 impoverished women participating in an HIV prevention study in Baltimore, MD. Data were collected through face-to-face interviews at a community-based research clinic. Heavy episodic drinking was defined as six or more drinks per drinking episode on at least a weekly basis. We examined network characteristics, including structure and function and their association with heavy episodic drinking. Multivariate logistic regression was used, adjusting for individual-level factors, such as drug use, demographics, and depression. Results: Approximately 21% of the sample engaged in heavy episodic drinking at least weekly. Controlling for individual-level factors, women who engaged in heavy episodic drinking had fewer social network members (a) who were in drug treatment, adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 0.65, 95% CI [0.49, 0.88]; (b) who were employed, AOR = 0.89, 95% CI [0.79, 0.99]; and (c) with whom the participant socialized, AOR = 0.74, 95% CI [0.63, 0.96]. Women who engaged in heavy episodic drinking had a significantly higher number of social network members with whom they drank alcohol, AOR = 1.71, 95% CI [1.43, 2.03]. Conclusions: Social network characteristics are both protective and risk factors for heavy episodic drinking among women. Interpersonal interventions, such as peer education, may be a useful strategy to decrease heavy episodic drinking and its subsequent outcomes among women. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 72, 10411047, 2011)