[AI] Social networks show drug use follows lack of sleep

Sanjay ilovecold at gmail.com
Thu Jul 15 18:00:42 EDT 2010

          Analysing the friendship networks of 90,000 teens shows that lack
          of sleep seems to cause increased drug use - and that teenagers
          influence each other

by Ewen Callaway

PARENTS looking to steer their teens away from drugs may want to
encourage them stay in bed longer. Lack of sleep seems to lead to
increased drug use - not the other way around, as many researchers
previously concluded - and this is likely to be a pattern of behaviour
that teenagers acquire from their friends.

"Your sleep is going to influence my sleep and that will make me more
likely to do drugs," says10Sara Mednick, a neuroscientist at the
University of California, San Diego, who led the study.

Establishing whether one behaviour leads to another usually requires
an experiment in which a particular variable is tweaked. But in the
first analysis of its kind, Mednick and her team used changes in the
friendship networks of 90,000 teens during the course of a school year
as a "natural experiment" (see "All the world's a lab") to
discover what influences led them to use cannabis. They say their
analysis showed not only that cannabis and poor sleep spread together,
but also that lack of sleep was causing marijuana use.

Having one friend who had less than 7 hours of shut-eye a night
increased the likelihood that a teenager had also used marijuana by 20
per cent, the team found. Also, the more sleep-deprived friends the
teenager had, the more likely it was that he or she smoked dope. The
team also found that the most popular teenagers - those most central
to their school's social network - were the ones most likely to sleep
poorly, do drugs and pass these behaviours on.

"This research was done in the early 90s before the internet age,"
Mednick points out. The teenagers' poor sleep habits may have been
spread through late-night phone calls and gallivanting, but since the
research was done new distractions such as text messaging could offer
even more reasons to stay up late. "My guess is that this is going to
become 10 million times worse," Mednick says.

To reduce the possibility that a shared environmental factor may
explain these connections, Mednick's team took into account
differences between teenagers, including race, sex, parents' income
and education. Another complication is that teenagers tend to pick
friends based on a mutual interest, be it football or French or
recreational drug use.

But Mednick says that the pattern of changes in the social networks
show the teens are not simply picking like-minded friends, but that
friends are driving each other's behaviour.  
 Mutual friends had more influence on
the sleep habits and drug use of one another than pairs where only one
person named the other as a friend. Teens whose friendship was not
reciprocated by a classmate they named had little or no effect on that
friend's behaviour.

Susan Tapert, a psychologist also at UC San Diego who was not
involved in the study, agrees that poor sleep may lead to drug use,
but also says the two behaviours probably reinforce one another. A
previous study found that after treatment, alcoholics who continued to
have sleep problems were more likely to relapse.

Mednick hopes to use a similar approach to find out if sleeping badly
is related to gambling and other impulsive acts.

Team member James Fowler, who previously showed that obesity
spreads through social networks, sees social networks as a useful tool
for teasing out cause and effect. He and Mednick write: "People are
connected, and so their health behaviours are connected."

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