Social Pressure Can Influence Your Drink Choices
March 5, 2014

Going Out With Friends Could Make You More Likely To Drink Alcohol

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

People who go out to have a drink with their friends may find themselves copying each other’s alcohol consumption habits without even realizing it, according to new research published this week in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

To determine whether or not social drinkers were affected by each other’s orders, researchers from the University of Liverpool in the UK recruited 46 pairs of social acquaintances between the ages of 19 and 60. Initially, they were told only that they were participating in a “social problem solving” study.

Ultimately, the pairs were taken to a bar setting and asked to compete against each other in a game. One member of each pair (the confederate) was selected at random and instructed to either drink only alcohol or only soft drinks, while the other individual (the naïve) was given no instructions so that the study authors could see if his or her behavior was influenced by that of the confederate, the university explained in a statement Tuesday.

The person who had been given drinking instructions ordered first, and according to the investigators, 80 percent of the partners of those people instructed to choose an alcoholic beverage also did so, compared to just 30 percent of partners who selected a soft drink. However, 81 percent of those denied that their friend’s choice might have impacted their own drink selection, indicating that they might not be aware of this potential influence.

Study leaders Rebecca Dallas and Dr. Eric Robinson from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society believe that by demonstrating that drinking alcohol is an acceptable behavior, the partners were able to unconsciously impact the drinking choices of their friends.

“Social pressure can have an enormous effect on people's drinking habits,” Dr. Robinson said. “As we've shown in this study, friends can influence our behavior without us even realizing it's happening and this has implications for people who are looking to cut down their drinking. What we didn't find out was whether people genuinely didn't know they were copying their friend, or if they were just embarrassed when we asked them afterwards!”

In related news, the results of a new international study – scheduled for publication in the May 2014 online-only issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research – found that people were more likely to drink heavily if alcohol was more readily available.

The International Alcohol Control (IAC) study, a collaborative project designed to collect comparative data on alcohol consumption and policy-relevant behaviors in both high- and middle/low-income countries, also found that heavier drinkers tended to purchase cheaper alcohol from off-premise outlets, and purchase at later times.