Friends Don't Let Problem Drinkers DrinkFriends Don't Let Problem Drinkers Drink

The attitude of friends, and family, makes a difference for people trying to sustain recovery from addiction to alcohol.  That is the message of recent research, which demonstrates that people who make positive changes in their social relationships can improve their chances of success following treatment.
Using innovative statistical techniques to overcome some of the methodological flaws of previous research, this study, published in the May edition of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, shows that social networks can have a powerful and lasting effect on how well people are able to cope following treatment for alcohol abuse. These effects can last for at least three years after treatment.

In the study, participants who had friends or family who forthrightly advocated that they abstain from drinking alcohol tended to be more successful. Conversely, those who had someone who encouraged them to drink (a pro-drinker) usually had a more difficult time quitting alcohol.  "Most of us have an image of a 'pro-drinker' as someone who drinks heavily. Often, however, pro-drinkers are people who may be abstainers or light drinkers, but who don’t believe their friend who is struggling with an alcohol problem has a drinking problem that requires treatment," said Dr. Robert Stout of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE). In the study, Stout and his colleagues argue that intervening with pro-drinkers to make them advocates for abstention may present an important opportunity in helping people to recover from addictions.

While it can be difficult to make changes in personal relationships, especially when people are stressed by trying to recover from an addiction, modifications may be necessary to sustain their efforts.  According to Stout, "It can be intimidating to reach out to new people, or to explain to one’s current friends and family that they need their support during recovery.  Breaking off old relationships can also be hard, but equally important." Although this study and previous research shows that social influences are very important for recovery, researchers still want to learn more about ways that family, friends, and treatment providers can help those with alcohol problems make the changes needed for their recovery.

The paper, entitled “Association Between Social Influences and Drinking Outcomes Across Three Years,” available at, supports the development of treatments that promote positive social changes and the need for additional research on the determinants of social network changes.

The first author of the paper is Dr. Robert Stout, Senior Scientist at Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.  Co-authors include Drs. John Kelly of Massachusetts General Hospital, Molly Magill of Brown University, and Maria Pagano of Case Western Reserve University.  The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).







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