University of Wisconsin–Madison

Paper Reports New Analysis Method to Study Smokers’ Social Networks

For smokers who have smaller social networks, having even one supportive person can make all the difference in having a successful quit attempt, according to a new paper in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Researchers looked at smoking habits across several subgroups of those making a quit attempt. The Socially Disconnected subgroup—characterized by little social interaction, low levels of stress, and low exposure to social environmental smoking cues—had the highest probability of successful cessation at one week after quitting.

“One of the biggest reasons for this is that they don’t have the social cues to smoking,” says UW-CTRI Associate Director of Research Dr. Megan Piper, who co-authored the paper. “But it’s also that even though their social network isn’t particularly large, they might have one or two really supportive people in their network, which helps not expose them to any smoking.”

The Socially Disconnected subgroup had the highest proportion of supportive former smokers.

After six months, members of this subgroup had higher quit rates than the High Stress/High Contact subgroup, as well as the Risky Friends and Low Contact subgroup. These groups had a lot of stress from the large size of their networks, and were exposed to many smoking cues.

The different subgroups studied also included Large and Supportive, as well as High Contact with Smokers and Light Drinkers.

The paper, also co-authored by fellow UW-CTRI Director of Research Dr. Timothy Baker, was the first of its kind to study social networks across these five different subgroups, allowing researchers to understand the patterns of exposure and risk for smokers based on with whom they associate.

“Social network research is often focused on adolescents—who is hanging out with who, or research on how quit rates vary based on whether or not one’s partner quits,” Piper said. “But this is the first study to look at the networks of people who do and don’t quit.”

The paper builds on research by revealing the different patterns associated with various networks smokers have, particularly how high levels of exposure to smoking and drinking cues were associated with high likelihoods of smoking cessation failure.