A new study on the connection between student alcohol abuse and the use of social media by American college students finds that posting about alcohol use on sites like Facebook and Instagram is a stronger predictor of alcohol problems than reported alcohol consumption.
Researchers at the North Carolina State University and Ohio University surveyed 364 undergraduate students at a medium-sized midwestern university known for heavy student drinking and found that students who posted alcohol-related content on social media were at greater risk of having alcohol problems.
“This work underscores the central role that social networking sites, or SNSs, play in helping students coordinate, advertise and facilitate their drinking experiences,” says co-author Lyndey Romo, assistant professor of communications at NC State. “The study also indicates that students who are at risk of having drinking problems can be identified through social media sites.”
Researchers further found that a strong predictor of drinking was possessing an “alcohol identity,” meaning that students drank more if they believed that drinking was “part of who I am.” The practice of alcohol-related posting online turned out to be a stronger indicator of problem drinking than alcohol consumption, with problem drinking being measured through reported negative consequences of drinking, such as going to school drunk and getting into fights with other people.
Student drinking is a major issue across campuses in the United States and Canada. Alcohol is the most abused substance at U.S. colleges, with 76 per cent of college students saying that they have consumed alcohol over the past year and almost half of student drinkers reporting binge drinking during the past two weeks.
The relationship between social media use and alcohol abuse on campus is also well documented, with numerous studies showing the link between increased and problem drinking and the posting of alcohol-related social media posts. The power of social media to affect behaviour is striking. In one recent study from Michigan State University, 121 students were exposed to either beer ads or bottled water ads on Facebook and then given the choice between accepting either a gift card for a bar or one for a coffee shop. The students who viewed the beer ads chose the bar gift card in significantly greater numbers.
“On social media, the line that distinguishes an ad from regular content is very fine,” says lead author Saleem Alhabash. “What this tells us is there is an effect and it can be attributed to the sheer exposure to these messages. It primes them to think about alcohol.”
The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reports that young adults attending postsecondary institutions were more likely to engage in risky drinking than their peers who were not in school, with 32 per cent of Canadian undergraduates reporting drinking at a dangerous level. Research finds that drinking patterns developed during adolescence are strong predictors of adult drinking and that the younger a person starts drinking, the higher the risk for health and alcohol problems in adulthood.