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Health

Friendship benefits health, but it has a ‘dark side’, surprising study finds

Nature

America is in the midst of what is called a “friendship recession.”

The term took off after the Survey Center on American Life reported that over the past 30 years, the size of American friendship groups has declined and the number of Americans without close confidants has rapidly increased, in especially among men. Numerous studies have found that more Americans report having fewer friends and spending less time with the few they do have.

The implications are numerous in a society where fewer and fewer people have fewer and fewer meaningful friendships. Some argue that a decline in friendships leads to a decline in civic engagement. Loneliness can make a person’s immune system more vulnerable to disease and more susceptible to its progression. Some researchers have found that loneliness can be a risk factor for dementia and therefore friendship can help protect against it.

Given the detrimental effects that loneliness can have on a person’s health, it’s easy to think that having more friendships unequivocally equates to good health and that there are only benefits to having friends. Friendships also have a “dark side,” according to a new study published in Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences. (The good news is that this may not matter much in the grand scheme of things.)

Friendships were associated with a 43% increased likelihood of smoking and a 48% increased likelihood of binge drinking.

In the study, researchers examined data from approximately 13,000 adults over the age of 50 to examine associations between different facets of friendship and 35 health and well-being outcomes four years later. In a phone interview, Bill Chopik, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, told me that he and his colleagues wanted to focus on friendships because most of the existing literature explores the health effects of relationships. marital or parent-child relationships.

But more and more Americans remain single and find companionship in family-like friendships. Oddly enough, the others wanted to know how important it is to have friends. Some of the results they found were that friendships were associated with a 24% reduction in the risk of death, a 19% reduction in the risk of stroke, and a 17% reduction in the risk of depression.

“Having good and frequent friendships was associated with living longer, being happy in almost all areas, and having a somewhat healthier personality,” he said. “Those were by far the right things, and there were some interesting results.”

Specifically, they found that friendships were associated with a 43% increased likelihood of smoking and a 48% increased likelihood of binge drinking.


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“It seems that having more and better friendships leads you to drink a little more, which we didn’t expect, and to smoke a little more, which we normally try to dissuade people from doing “, did he declare. “The interesting thing is that you soak up a little bit more of these substances – and yet you still live longer.”

The interesting thing is that being without friends or being alone in general is just as bad, if not worse, than smoking. Research has shown that people who seek treatment for substance abuse problems report feeling lonely, suggesting that there is a link between isolation and substance abuse. Yet it seems that if you have more friends, you are also at higher risk of smoking and drinking.

Chopik said this could be part of what’s called the “amplification system” of friendships, meaning your friends can amplify your good or bad behaviors.

“There’s a saying, ‘You are who your friends are,’” he said. “And that’s what we mean by the amplification system, it accentuates our best and worst traits.”

However, the tradeoff is “minimal,” Chopik said. In other words, the increased likelihood of smoking or drinking is worth considering for your health and for living longer. The takeaway is definitely not to spend the second half of your life without friends because of fear, alcohol or smoking. In fact, it’s the opposite. Chopik said he hopes this study will reinforce the importance of friendship when it comes to enriching the human experience.

“The compromise is not as dramatic as I think, it’s not like I’m going to force you to smoke three cigarettes in exchange for your happiness,” he said, clarifying that despite the increase in the number of cigarettes. People who drink and smoke and have fulfilling friendships live even longer. “In a way, the story is very simple: there’s no downside to having really great friends, the difficulty is finding friends and keeping them.”

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