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Best friends and alcohol use in adolescence: the role of the dopamine D4 receptor gene


Carmen van der Zwaluw, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, P.O. Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, the Netherlands. E-mail:


The influence of friends and peers is theoretically one of the most consistent and important factors explaining adolescent alcohol use. However, not all adolescents are equally likely to be influenced by their friends' drinking behaviors. Genetic factors may underlie these inter-individual differences in susceptibility to the drinking behavior of friends. Because the long allele (≥ 7 repeats) of the dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) gene has been associated with susceptibility to alcohol and alcohol-related cues, we tested whether associations between best friend's and adolescent's alcohol use differed for DRD4 genotypes. A Dutch nationwide sample of 308 adolescents (age 13 at baseline) participated in a prospective, community-based study with five annual waves. A cross-lagged path analysis was carried out in Mplus to examine bi-directional relations between friends' and adolescents' weekly alcohol use (number of drinks). A multi-group approach was applied to test for moderation effects of a 48-base pair variable number of tandem repeats polymorphism in exon 3 of the DRD4 gene. Additionally, with latent growth curve models, it was examined whether the interaction between friends' drinking and DRD4 genotype predicted the development of adolescents' alcohol use. Results showed that both cross-sectionally and longitudinally higher levels of friends' alcohol use resulted in higher levels of adolescents' alcohol consumption over time (and vice versa). No significant moderation of DRD4 genotype was found: Associations between adolescents' and friends' drinking did not differ for adolescent carriers of the DRD4 long allele, when compared with adolescents without the DRD4 long allele. Because this is the first study to examine DRD4 × friends' drinking effects prospectively, replication is essential. Future longitudinal studies, possibly with observational or diary designs, are needed to increase our understanding of the interplay between genetic and environmental risk factors for adolescent alcohol use.