In the 2018 study, she and her colleagues looked at how the frequency of adolescent drunkenness changed as a function of the frequency of peer drunkenness, in a sample of 1,439 adolescents. They found that the adolescents reported being drunk more frequently when their friends, and their romantic partners’ friends, were drunk more frequently.
Adolescents also reported getting drunk more often when their romantic partners had more positive attitudes toward alcohol. And the researchers found an association between more frequent drunkenness and “unstructured socializing,” that is, hanging out without adult supervision, an association that was stronger as the adolescents got older.
“Peers’ attitude and behavior matters,” Dr. Wesche said. “The social contexts of our lives can create opportunities for alcohol use.”
When we say that peers have important influences on adolescent decision making, we are not necessarily talking about what parents tend to think of as peer pressure. “Peers, friends and romantic partners — those people become much more influential on our behavior during adolescence,” Dr. Wesche said. “People discuss peer pressure, but it goes beyond peer pressure — it can be just the perception that a peer is watching you.” Recent neurodevelopmental thinking about the adolescent brain incorporates the idea that adolescent risk-taking is particularly tied to peer influences.
Adolescent drinking is also related to what kids believe about how much their peers are drinking (studies show they tend to overestimate it, and that interventions to correct those assumptions can help moderate college student drinking) and what they believe about alcohol and its effects.
[If you need help finding resources for yourself or someone else, try the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Treatment Navigator.]
So if you are a parent, you need to keep talking, asking questions, providing information, letting your kids know what your standards and your values are. First of all, of course, you make sure you are drumming in the message about drinking and driving: don’t ever get in a car with a driver who may have been drinking (or doing anything else that may impair driving skills); make sure there’s always a safe alternative, whether it be calling a ride-share service or calling home, and make sure it’s clear that there will never be disciplinary consequences.