Is Drinking Contagious?

Our friends' habits may affect us more than we think

Nonetheless, we do tend to affiliate with people who share our values, and it’s those attitudes toward drinking that determine whether the activity is a problem (read, alcoholism) or not. Not only does drinking occur in specific cultural contexts–having wine with meals is par for the course in France and Italy–but even the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in its dietary guidelines, says that a glass a day for women and two for men could be good for you (not that it’s recommending that). It’s not just about how much you drink, but whether it disrupts your relationships with colleagues and loved ones that indicates alcoholism. Drinking more than what the USDA guidelines say doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an alcoholic, Rosenquist and Foster say.

Still, if you’re worried you may be drinking too much, should you stop hanging out with friends who do? Not necessarily. Dropping a friend who drinks “would be a fairly severe way of interpreting the data and applying it to your own life,” Rosenquist says.

Being aware of their influence on you, though, can help you pay more attention to what you’re consuming so you don’t automatically follow suit. And while you may not be able to encourage all of them to drink less simply by doing so yourself, it can’t hurt to try. After all, Rosenquist says, Alcoholics Anonymous has been operating for decades as a social network based exactly on that premise.

The bottom line: The behavior and actions of our friends and close relatives seems to affect us to some degree, whether for good or for bad. "Cognizance of that can be valuable in and of itself,” says Rosenquist.

Video: Gail Saltz, MD: How to Help Someone With a Drinking Problem

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