Previous studies have found friend groups can influence choices about alcohol, but haven't looked at the possible social payoffs of drinking.
"There has not been much data to support that drinking among teenagers directly leads to higher popularity and more friendships," said Peter Delany. He is the director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality in Rockville, Maryland.
Delany was not part of the study team, which was led by Mir M. Ali, also from SAMHSA.
"The fact remains that underage drinking is linked to a long list of adverse health and behavioral consequences, including the deaths of thousands of adolescents and young adults each year," Delany told Reuters Health in an email.
Ali and colleagues analyzed data from a national study of 7th through 12th graders from 132 schools who were surveyed in 1994. The survey included a variety of questions on drinking and substance use, number of friends, friends of friends, home life and other factors.
Teens who reported occasional drinking and getting drunk tended to have higher "social connectedness" than their abstaining peers. That was especially true for white students.
Getting drunk seemed to be more important for popularity than just drinking in general. Kids who drank at all reported having an extra half a friend, on average, and those who got drunk reported one additional friend compared to non-drinkers.
The findings "provide new evidence on the motivation behind adolescent drinking," the researchers wrote in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
The researchers added that healthy behaviors, like participating in sports, are also linked with better social connectedness.
Image: Teens drinking beer, via Shutterstock