Research & Resources

Adolescent Alcohol Initiation: Context of Close Friendships and the Role of Trust

This study explored the mechanisms by which the context of close friendships is important to adolescents’ decisions to initiate drinking and heavy alcohol use. Researchers conducted in-depth face-to-face qualitative interviews online with 50 adolescents (ages 12–16 years) who reported lifetime drinking. Adolescents described their first experiences with drinking, reflecting on their social and environmental contexts, decision-making processes, and expectations. A thematic analysis of these narratives revealed the nuances of social relationships and trusting peers—and their impact on alcohol use initiation patterns. Countering common perceptions of peer pressure, youth described a decision-making process about alcohol that was influenced by feelings of safety and security produced by close relationships. Specifically, social relationships, especially the presence of close friends, influenced adolescents’ decisions to initiate alcohol use, suggesting that close peer relationships enhanced feelings of safety even while engaging in risky behaviors. These results suggest the importance of understanding the complex relationships between social contexts, close friendships, and perceived trust. These results can inform future research and interventions on alcohol prevention and delayed initiation among adolescents.

This paper, “Adolescent alcohol initiation: Context of close friendships and the role of trust,” was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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