Author(s): Brandy Benedict
Do you drink? Chances are, you do. According to a recent Gallup poll , 64% of American adults consider themselves drinkers, and about 20% thi nk they sometimes drink too much. That ratio is even higher in some communities: At colleges and universities, where peer influence is es pecially strong, approximately one student in three abuses alcohol . Do the drinking habits of friends affect a person’s own level of alcohol consumption? Are you more likely to become an alcoholi c if you spend a lot of time around alcoholics? How do drinking problems spread in a community of drinkers? Can you “catch” alcoholism? A group of researchers are trying to answer these questions. At a standing-room-only talk at the 2006 Joint SMB–SIAM Conference on the Life Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina, Fabio Sánchez of Cornell University presented a model for the spread of alcoholic drink ing based on epidemiological models of infectious diseases . The model, developed with collaborators Xiaohong Wang (Arizona State Universi ty), Carlos Castillo-Chávez (Arizona State), Dennis Gorman (Texas A&M Health Science Center), and Paul Gruenewald (Prevention Research Center , Berkeley, California), describes how alcoholics spread drinking problems through social contact between people with different dri nking habits.