All alcohol exposure counts – testing parental, older sibling, best friend and peer exposure on young adolescent drinking in a seven-wave longitudinal study
The use of alcohol among young adolescents is associated with a wide range of harms. It is well known from previous research that role-models, such as parents, peers and best friends, play an important role in influencing if and how much alcohol is used by adolescents. For example, when one or both parents consume more alcohol, children report more alcohol use, and experience more alcohol-related problems later in life.
This study investigates how exposure to the use of alcohol affects alcohol consumption among young adolescents. As a part of the this study, researchers wanted to more specifically investigate the role of older siblings. Previous studies have shown that siblings’ alcohol use resemble each other, but have not considered whether this may be the result of older siblings exposing younger siblings to their alcohol consumption patterns.
In the study researchers followed a group of young adolescents for three years. The participants in the study completed a questionnaire every six months during the period, answering questions about exposure to alcohol use by others, as well as their own alcohol use.
Researchers examined three different alcohol use measures:
- Alcohol use in the last 6 months,
- Alcohol use in the last 4 weeks, and
- Binge alcohol use (more than five glasses in one occasion) in the last 4 weeks.
Using different models, researchers then tested the effects of older siblings’ alcohol exposure, alongside several more traditionally examined role models (mothers, fathers, peers and best friends), on young adolescents’ alcohol use.
- In the first model researchers tested the impact of exposure to alcohol use by mothers, fathers, peers and best friends.
- In the second model researchers used a sub-sample with only those study participants with older siblings, examining the impact of exposure to older siblings’ alcohol use on the three alcohol use outcome variables.
- In the third model, researchers simultaneously examined the impact of sibling, mother, father, peer and best friend exposure on the three alcohol use outcomes.
- To test the impact of exposure on changes of alcohol use status over time, the final and fourth model examined the relations in the third model adjusted for alcohol use at the previous time-point.
The first model showed that higher exposure to parents’ and peers’ alcohol use was associated with all three alcohol use outcomes.
- Adolescents exposed to best friends’ alcohol use were more than two times more likely to consume alcohol in the last 4 weeks and nearly two times as likely to have engaged in binge alcohol use in the last 4 weeks.
- Those exposed to peer alcohol use were more than three times as likely to have consumed alcohol in the past six months.
The second model showed that higher exposure to sibling alcohol use was significantly associated with all alcohol use outcomes.
- Adolescents exposed to siblings’ alcohol use were two times more likely to engage in binge alcohol use and to have consumed alcohol in the last 4 weeks.
- The third model confirms that this effect remains when adding other role-models.
Implications for prevention
According to the researchers the results of this study suggest three potential avenues for prevention:
- Prevention efforts should focus upon reducing exposure to alcohol use.
- Attention should be given to sibling relationships, whether that be to reduce alcohol use exposure or to use the sibling relationship as a resource for educating younger siblings.
- Any prevention effort should be multi-dimensional, focusing on the range of sources of exposure that influence adolescents’ alcohol use, including the family, best friends and peers, as well as the larger physical and social environments,
- for example adults outside the family,
- outlet density, and
- other neighbourhood characteristics in which young adolescents grow up.
Role models around the adolescent, including parents, peers, best friends and older siblings, all act in ways to socialize the adolescent into alcohol use. This study aims to examine the effect of exposure to siblings’ alcohol use alongside the more traditionally examined role models on alcohol use among adolescents.
A longitudinal study followed adolescents (45.6% male) who completed a questionnaire every 6 months over 3 years (seven in total).
This resulted in 5112 observations clustered in 765 participants aged between 10 and 16 years.
The researchers examined three alcohol use measures:
- alcohol use in the last 6 months,
- alcohol use in the last 4 weeks, and
- binge alcohol use in the last 4 weeks.
These three alcohol use measures were examined both cross-sectionally at each time-point and their change from one time-point to the next in a series of multi-level logistic regression models.
Results revealed a non-significant difference in any of the exposure or alcohol use variables between those with or without older siblings.
Higher exposure to sibling alcohol use was significantly associated with all alcohol use outcomes:
- use in the last 6 months, odds ratio (OR) = 1.54;
- last 4 weeks, OR = 2.04; and
- binge alcohol use, OR = 2.35.
When adding the other role models (i.e. peers, mothers, fathers and best friends), the significant association between siblings’ exposure and adolescents’ alcohol use remains.
It would appear that, after adjustment for the effect of role models, adolescents who are exposed to more sibling alcohol use are more likely to have consumed alcohol during the past 6 months and past 4 weeks and also to engage in binge alcohol consumption.