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Genetic Sensitivity to Peer Behaviors: 5HTTLPR, Smoking, and Alcohol Consumption


Daw, Jonathan K.; Shanahan, Michael J.; Harris, Kathleen Mullan; Smolen, Andrew; Haberstick, Brett C.; & Boardman, Jason D. (2013). Genetic Sensitivity to Peer Behaviors: 5HTTLPR, Smoking, and Alcohol Consumption. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 54(1), 92-108. PMCID: PMC3659161


We investigate whether the serotonin transporter–linked polymorphic region (5HTTLPR), a gene associated with environmental sensitivity, moderates the association between smoking and drinking patterns at adolescents’ schools and their corresponding risk for smoking and drinking themselves. Drawing on the school-based design of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in conjunction with molecular genetic data for roughly 15,000 respondents (including over 2,000 sibling pairs), we show that adolescents smoke more cigarettes and consume more alcohol when attending schools with elevated rates of tobacco and alcohol use. More important, an individual’s susceptibility to school-level patterns of smoking or drinking is conditional on the number of short alleles he or she has in 5HTTLPR. Overall, the findings demonstrate the utility of the differential susceptibility framework for medical sociology by suggesting that health behaviors reflect interactions between genetic factors and the prevalence of these behaviors in a person’s context.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of Health and Social Behavior


Daw, Jonathan K.
Shanahan, Michael J.
Harris, Kathleen Mullan
Smolen, Andrew
Haberstick, Brett C.
Boardman, Jason D.