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Using social network analysis to examine alcohol use among adults: A systematic review

posted on 22.08.2019, 17:33 by Justin Knox, John Schneider, Emily Greene, Joey Nicholson, Deborah Hasin, Theo Sandfort


Alcohol use and abuse constitute a major public health problem and identifying their determinants is a priority. Social network analysis can indicate how characteristics of social networks are related to individual health behaviors. A growing number of studies have used social network analysis to examine how social network characteristics influence adult alcohol consumption, but this literature has never been systematically reviewed and summarized. The current paper systematically reviews empirical studies that used social network analysis to assess the influence of social network characteristics on drinking behaviors in adults.


A literature search of PubMed/MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO and Web of Science databases and a review of the reference lists of retrieved articles was conducted in March 2019. Two reviewers independently screened 5,510 non-duplicate records, and further screened the full text of 150 articles to determine their eligibility for inclusion. Seventeen articles were judged eligible and included.


Most studies were conducted among young adults (mean age<30), in university settings or follow up visits with adolescent networks moving into adulthood. The objectives and methods of the included studies were heterogeneous. All included studies reported a statistically significant association between a social network characteristic and an alcohol consumption-related outcome. Social network members drinking behaviors were associated with participants’ drinking behaviors in multiple ways.


In young adults, among whom the majority of identified studies were conducted, with whom they socialize and how they socialize appears to be associated with alcohol consumption; this was observed across methodologies and settings. We still know very little about the relationship of social networks to drinking in older age groups, and in populations most impacted by alcohol. As social networks appear to play a role in the consumption of alcohol in young adulthood, interventions that utilize social networks to help reduce harmful alcohol consumption should be considered.