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St. Joseph Youth Alliance
5223 Mitchell Avenue
St. Joseph, MO 64507
(816) 232-0050

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Kids Are More Like Their Friends Than They Think

What is the strongest factor influencing whether or not your teen will drink alcohol? A study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points to the attitudes of friends as the number one determining influence on when and whether a young person drinks.

The study surveyed 820 teenagers ages 14 – 17 from six separate locations across the nation. The majority of the teens came from high-risk situations but fewer than 50 percent had an alcoholic mother or father. The researchers looked at the age each teen had taken their first drink of alcohol and then looked at other contributing factors such as degree of social skills, whether their closest friends drank, family history of alcohol abuse, and assessments for disruptive behavior (i.e.: were the teens natural troublemakers).

Researchers found that close to half (four out of 10) of the teens who drank at an early age also reported PTSD 1having best friends who were drinkers. Compared to all the other examined risk factors, having a close friend who drinks makes it twice as likely that a young person will drink.

There is a good news/bad news angle to the friendship factor however. Research conducted in 2012 underlined the powerful influence of close friends, but it went a step beyond to assert that even the parents of close friends can influence a teenager.

This means that if a best buddy has a permissive parent, drinking may be encouraged. It also means that friends with strict, tee-totaling parents can also exert some influence. That particular study found teens whose friends had authoritative mothers were significantly less apt to drink, smoke tobacco or use marijuana compared to kids with permissive moms and dads.

The importance of delaying a person’s first experience with drinking cannot be over-emphasized.  Drinking before age 14 is a risk factor for later adult alcohol dependency in numerous studies.  The medical and physical risks of drinking for teens are a litany of reasons why young people should wait to drink alcohol. But if friends can exert this much influence over a teen’s decision to drink, what is a parent to do?

First, keep in mind that the parents of friends share in the best friend influence factor. You can be a positive influence on your teen’s friends in discouraging early alcohol use. Second, just because parents don’t have the strongest voice, doesn’t mean that they have no voice. Moms and dads should talk with their teens about their feelings on alcohol use.

Finally, the Youth Alliance has developed BC Rocks as a way for parents to connect with other like-minded moms and dads who will be that second tier influence away from underage drinking.  Check out the BC Rocks participation pages to see if your teen is headed to a home where the adults are standing tall and speaking against underage drinking by refusing to turn a blind eye.