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Social Support Linked to Drinking and Driving

Armen Hareyan's picture

Having a circle of friends who condone getting behind the wheel after imbibing is high on the list of predictors for drinking and driving, according to a study from researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Believing there are few negative consequences for drinking and driving is another strong warning sign for that risky alcohol-fueled behavior, found the survey of nearly 3,500 young adults.

Over the years, transportation safety researchers have compiled a laundry list of drinking-and-driving risk factors that include everything from hostility to adolescent smoking and drug use. But many of those behaviors or social characteristics are also predictors for drinking alone.

So when prevention experts set out to design anti-drinking-and-driving programs it can be hard to know which behaviors or traits to target for change. The new study tries to disentangle the factors that are related to drinking from those that are uniquely predictive of drinking and driving.

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The study appears in the April issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Lead study author Raymond Bingham, Ph.D., and his team examined several risk factors. Once the influence of alcohol use was factored out, two influences emerged as most closely linked to drinking and driving: social support and perceived risk.

Drivers who had greater than average social support for drinking and driving were more likely to be drinker/drivers.

"To policy makers I'd say, it's probably going to be worthwhile to try to change a person's network of friends, help them find friends who don't drink and drive, and avoid those who do," said Bingham, an associate professor at the University of Michigan. "It's probably harder than some interventions, but worth it."

Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have worked for decades to make drinking and driving less socially acceptable, but a pervasive cultural change may take even longer. Other advocacy groups are using social marketing to redefine what is "normal" or "typical" behavior. One successful campaign used billboards that read "Most Montana Young Adults (4 out of 5) Don't Drink and Drive."

The ACER study also found that drivers who believe there is little chance that they will experience the penalties of drinking and driving