Alcohol is Addictive… But is it Also Contagious?

A quick choice to consume alcohol doesn’t just affect you – it may also affect those around you, particularly in social situations.

New research suggests that, whether or not they are aware of it, people in groups are influenced by each other’s alcohol consumption patterns. These findings, published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, provide further evidence that individuals prone to alcohol abuse must be careful about who they socialize with.

The study analyzed 46 “drinking partners” with already established relationships, ranging in age from 19 to 60-years-old. One person in every pair was given secret instruction to either consume alcohol or non-alcoholic beverages while at the bar. The second member of the pair wasn’t given any drinking instruction or clue about the counterpart’s assignment.

Menus were distributed to the group, listing both alcoholic and non-alcoholic choices. And as a distraction, all participants played bar games while enough time passed for two rounds of drinks. Researchers noted the beverages and drinking behavior of everyone in the room.

  • For those who were instructed to order alcoholic drinks, their partner also consumed alcohol for both drinks, almost 90 percent of the time.
  • For those who were instructed to order non-alcoholic drinks, their partner consumed alcohol for both drinks, only 30 percent of the time.
  • Of the participants not provided instruction, less than 20 percent admitted that their drinking partner had influenced their decision about what to drink. Most reported that they were acting naturally, given the social circumstances.

It turns out that when placed in a social setting with alcohol, a person’s decision about what to drink can be dramatically affected by what their friends consume. And more alarming, a large majority of individuals are unaware of this behavioral trend, making it a sub-conscious trigger.

Other studies have demonstrated that we are more likely to drink in excess if we associate with other heavy drinkers. This research further highlights how social circumstances influence personal decisions.

It’s important to understand these social triggers so that you can be better prepared to handle group interactions with friends, family or co-workers.

If you or someone you know struggles with binge drinking, learn more about alcohol abuse signs, symptoms and treatment options.

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