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Halifax researcher looks at how alcohol, cannabis can influence relationships

A study hopes to find the connection between substance use in young adults and their social networks

3 min read
caption Cannabis being tested in the research lab.
Sarah Khan

A Halifax researcher is conducting survey looking at how people around us influence our substance use and lifestyle behaviours.

Sara Bartel is a Dalhousie University student pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology. She is recruiting 200 people between the ages of 19 and 25 who consume alcohol and cannabis to observe how our changing social groups have a direct influence on substance use over time.

She said people tend to connect with others who have similar substance use patterns. So, if there are heavy drinkers in your network of friends and family, how likely are you to do similar things? This is what Bartel wants to find out.

caption Sara Bartel is researching how social groups can affect our substance use.
Sarah Khan

The study expands on one of Bartel’s previous studies, which focused on a small group of people to determine who in their social circles most influenced their drinking habits.

“We found that it’s not your parents or friends but your romantic partners,” said Bartel. “These partners are people who we spend a lot of time with and we want their approval and acceptance. We tend to pick partners who have similar substance use patterns as us.”

Her research aims to understand how personal and environmental factors determine individual behaviours.

“We learn how much our peers are using, we see that even if we are not purposely paying attention,” said Bartel.

“We are always influenced by people around us.”

30 more people needed

The participants are asked to answer questions about their personalities and lifestyle choices, as well as list the names of the 15 people closest to them.

The same surveys are filled out every four months. Currently, 170 people have been recruited and Bartel said she needs 30 more.

The process of recruiting will run until April, and she expects to have the survey results by 2021.

“Over time, we are looking at who’s staying in your social circle, who is not there anymore, and how is the user level in your social network changing,” said Bartel.

She said the research is different from others as it captures the whole social network of an individual. She also believes she’s one of the first to study consumption levels of cannabis in a social network and the impacts of that use.

“No one has looked at motives for use in this context either, and we are also looking at norms. So, we are trying to cover areas which previous studies missed,” said Bartel.

She hopes to find out how factors such as impulsivity and personality traits play an important role in influencing people’s drinking habits. Bartel also wants to examine different types of interventions to reduce harmful substance use.

“I want to look at this at a broader level,” said Bartel.

“With cannabis legalization, it’s a good time to look into the substance use research field.”

If you’re interested in participating, you can reach out to Bartel via email.

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About the author

Sarah Khan

I am from India studying journalism at the University of Kings College. I love going on hikes and cooking!

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