Open Access
Wesche, Rose Bryant
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 28, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Eva Lefkowitz, Dissertation Advisor
  • Eva Lefkowitz, Committee Chair
  • Steffany Jane Fredman, Committee Member
  • Derek Allen Kreager, Committee Member
  • Rachel Annette Smith, Outside Member
  • adolescence
  • young adulthood
  • alcohol use
  • friendship
  • sexual relationships
  • romantic relationships
The prevalence of heavy alcohol use increases across adolescence and young adulthood, creating risks for health and development. Social relationships, including friendships and romantic and sexual relationships, may influence adolescent and young adult alcohol use. Understanding diverse social influences on heavy alcohol use in adolescence and young adulthood is important for preventing heavy alcohol use and its associated negative consequences. In this dissertation, I examined how diverse social relationships are associated with heavy alcohol use during adolescence and young adulthood. By incorporating multiple relationships and exploring multiple mechanisms of social influence, this dissertation advances understanding of both who matters for heavy alcohol use in adolescence/young adulthood, and how those individuals matter. In Paper 1, I used data from PROSPER to examine the unique associations of close others’ frequency of drunkenness, unstructured socializing, and alcohol-related attitudes with adolescents’ (ages 13-18) own frequency of drunkenness. I distinguished between the contributions of romantic partners, friends, and romantic partners’ friends in order to determine whether these potential sources of influence have unique associations with drunkenness. When examined separately, close others’ frequency of drunkenness, alcohol-related attitudes, and unstructured socializing each predicted adolescents’ own frequency of drunkenness. However, in a combined model, only friends’ frequency of drunkenness contributed independently to adolescents’ frequency of drunkenness. Furthermore, unstructured socializing with friends predicted increased frequency of drunkenness as adolescents aged. In Paper 2, I assessed how romantic partners’ binge drinking and negative alcohol-related consequences are associated with changes in young adults’ (ages 18-24 at baseline) own binge drinking using data from Add Health. I also explored whether relationship type (dating, cohabiting, or married) moderated these associations. Young adults increased their binge drinking frequency over six years if their partner binge drank more frequently at baseline. In addition, individuals increased their binge drinking frequency if their partners experienced more negative alcohol-related consequences at baseline; however, this association was no longer significant after controlling for additional variables. None of the associations measured differed by relationship type. In Paper 3, I used data from the University Life Study to examine how sexual behavior with committed romantic and casual sexual partners, and with and without heavy alcohol use, is associated with daily fluctuations in college students’ affect. Sexual behavior was associated with increases in positive affect and decreases in negative affect. These improvements in affect did not differ according to heavy alcohol use, sexual partner type, or interactions of these variables with each other or with semester in college. Overall, the results of this dissertation highlight the importance of friends in determining adolescents’ heavy alcohol use and the importance of romantic/sexual partners in determining young adults’ heavy alcohol use. The mechanisms of social influence on heavy alcohol use differ between friendships and romantic relationships and across developmental stages. Findings suggest that prevention strategies may differ when addressing friends’ versus romantic partners’ potential influences on heavy alcohol use.