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J Adolesc Health. 2000 Jan;26(1):27-35.

Do friendships change behaviors, or do behaviors change friendships? Examining paths of influence in young adolescents' alcohol use.

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  • 1Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, University of Minnesota School of Medicine, Minneapolis, USA.



This study examined support for models of peer influence, which postulates that young adolescents whose friends use alcohol will also engage in that behavior, and of peer selection, whereby young adolescents seek out friends whose drinking behavior is similar to their own.


Data for this study are from 1804 adolescents participating in Project Northland, a school- and community-based alcohol use prevention trial. Using latent variable structural equation modeling, a series of models examined directions of influence between participant alcohol use and friend drug use over three points in Grades 7, 8, and 9.


Findings indicated that higher levels of friends' drug use led to increased participant alcohol use. The reverse-order relationship (i.e., greater participant involvement in alcohol leading to more drug use among friends) was not supported by these data. Finally, best-fitting models supported the notion that both participants' alcohol use and the alcohol and other drug use of friends were highly stable over time.


Similarity in drinking behavior among adolescent friends may be more related to processes of peer influence than to processes of peer selection. Findings support the utility of alcohol use prevention programs that equip younger teens with skills to resist peer influences to use alcohol.

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