Peer pressure doesn’t always drive teenagers to drink – in fact, it often goes the other way around, a new study shows. Having just one like-minded friend who doesn’t drink reduces instances of drunkenness among teen drinkers by 38 percent, a new study has shown.

The presence of a small minority of alcohol abstainers in groups of teen friends can help to decrease the likelihood that everyone else will get drunk and binge drink. Image via Science News.

Criminologist Carter Rees, now at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and sociologist Danielle Wallace of Arizona State University in Phoenix teamed up to see how groups of teenagers behave when one of their friends doesn’t drink. What they found was a bit surprising: non drinking teenagers, even when they have a majority of drinking friends, rarely pick up drinking in the next year. If they have another non-drinking friend in their group, then they are even less likely to pick up drinking. They probably don’t have to deal with a type of social exclusion this way.

“Our results also show that a non-drinking adolescent with a majority of drinking friends is significantly less likely to initiate alcohol abuse if he or she has a minority of non-drinking friend(s). Furthermore, a drinking adolescent with a majority of friends who drink has a decreased probability of continuing to drink and has overall lower levels of consumption if he or she has a minority of friends who do not drink.”. researchers write in the paper.

They conducted their research based on data obtained in 1994 and 1995 from a national sample of 4,765 middle and high school students. According to this data, about half of teen drinkers with a majority of alcohol-using friends had at least one abstaining pal. It’s not clear if children today (or in other areas) have similar behavior, but it seems clear that peer pressure goes both way – not only driving teens to drinking, but also potentially preventing them from doing so.

Journal Reference: Carter Rees, Danielle Wallace. The myth of conformity: Adolescents and abstention from unhealthy drinking behaviorsDOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.01.040