New research suggests that Facebook profiles and other social media websites may reveal more about our drinking behaviors than we had intended.
In a small survey study conducted on 216 college students, researchers from the University of Wisconsin – Madison found that displayed alcohol references on Facebook were positively associated with being categorized as at-risk for problem drinking.
The study used a 10-question self-reported problem drinking quiz that assesses alcohol consumption, dependence and harm or consequences of alcohol use. The study’s authors included undergraduate students — ages 18-20 years — at two state universities who had public Facebook profiles in the study.
Of those surveyed, just over 58 percent of students who displayed intoxication along with problem drinking behaviors in their Facebook photos also had high scores on the quiz for at-risk problem drinking.
In comparison, only about 38 percent of people who displayed alcohol but not being intoxicated met the same criteria, while only 23 percent of non-displayers met the criteria for problem drinking.
One of the goals of the study was to understand how to better target public health messages to the most at-risk people who might develop an alcohol drinking problem.
“Our findings suggest that targeting keywords that relate to intoxication and problem drinking, rather than to general keywords regarding alcohol, may provide an innovative method to deliver a tailored message to a target population,” the researchers, led by Megan A. Moreno, M.D., said.
Among 307 profiles identified, 64.3 percent had no alcohol references displayed on the profile (nondisplayers), 19.6 percent had references to alcohol use (alcohol displayers), and 16.1 percent displayed references to intoxication or problem drinking (I/PD displayers).
Problem drinking among college students remains a significant concern. Using the standard cutoff score for at-risk problem drinking, over 35 percent of participants scored into the at-risk for problem drinking category.
People who displayed intoxicated or problem drinking behavior photos on their Facebook profiles were significantly more likely — 2 to 6 times more than the other groups — to report an alcohol-related injury in the past year as well.
“These study findings can be used for offering evidence-based guidance recommending that students who display references to I/PD on Facebook undergo clinical screening for problem alcohol use,” the authors concluded.
According to background information in the article, alcohol is a major cause of injury and death among U.S. college students.
“Approximately half of students who use alcohol report direct alcohol-related harms, and as many as 1,700 college student deaths each year are alcohol-related,” write the authors.
The study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine online.