Social Media Posts: Can They Reveal Problematic Drinking?

College students who post status updates about their alcohol use on social networking sites may be exhibiting an “alcohol identity” that could indicate whether they are at risk of having problems with alcohol, according to a recent study. Researchers from North Carolina State University and Ohio University set out to learn what drives students to drink and post about alcohol to their social media sites, according to a press release about the study.

More than 350 undergraduate students at a university in the US Midwest completed an online survey in which they were asked about how often they used social media sites, how much they post about alcohol use on those sites, and what their motivations are for drinking.

All respondents were older than age 18 and said they each had at least one alcoholic drink during the past month. They also are active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The students’ answers led researchers to conclude that sharing regular updates about alcohol use on social networking sites establishes an “alcohol identity” of that person, which could signal that alcohol-related problems are ahead.

“The strongest predictor of both drinking alcohol and posting about it on SNSs was espousing an alcohol identitymeaning that the individuals considered drinking a part of who they are,” said lead study author Charee Thompson, who is an assistant professor of communication studies at Midwestern University. “And those two behaviors were associated with alcohol problemssuch as missing school or work, or getting into fightsbecause of drinking.”

Posts Encourage Drinking Culture, Researcher Says

Other behaviors associated with problematic alcohol use include drinking alcohol in places and situations where it’s physically dangerous to do sosuch as drinking alcohol while taking prescription medication or operating machineryand drinking to the point where interpersonal relationships are affected, or legal problems occur as a result of irresponsible drinking.

The findings also indicate that social-media users in this population are at risk of alcohol-related problems. The issue isn’t having a drink; it’s the user’s willingness to share detailed accounts of their partying and drinking that’s a strong indicator that alcoholism is possible.

“This might be because posting about alcohol use strengthens a student’s ties to a drinking culture, which encourages more drinking, which could lead to problems,” Thompson said.

Researchers said via press release that they hope the study’s finding helps policymakers develop interventions that target at-risk youth populations, especially those who identify strongly with alcohol.

Drinking alcohol is widespread on college campuses across the US. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 4 out of 5 college students consume alcohol; about half of those who drink binge-drink their alcoholic beverages. Twenty percent of college students meet the criteria of alcohol use disorder, research shows.

According to NIDA, the first six weeks of a student’s first year in college is a vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences because of pressures in and out of the classroom that come at the start of the academic year.

Can a Tweet or Facebook Post Reveal Health Clues?

In another social media-related study released in May 2016, researchers at the Penn Social Media & Health Innovation Lab at the University of Pennsylvania recently examined whether the language people use in their posts on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, reveals clues about their mental, emotional, and physical health.

Signs of substance abuse, along with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic illnesses were among the things they were looking for in the users’ posts.

According to the researchers, how the language is structured, as well as the words the people use, can be possible signs that their cognitive health is in decline or whether they are struggling with a disorder.

Social Media and Early Detection

Studying social media networking posts for health data may help identify web users who are at risk of abusing drugs or alcohol, or both, and help them enter a drug treatment program while they are in the early stages of addiction.

Some general behaviors shared in social media posts that could indicate a drug or alcohol abuse or addiction include:

Status updates, images, and videos that mention or portray risky, irresponsible behaviors while drinking alcohol and abusing drugs, both illegal and prescription

  • Posts in which a person is operating a motor vehicle after heavy drinking has been implied or expressed; such posts could indicate the person is driving while impaired
  • Images of drug paraphernalia, such as a crack pipe, spoon, bong, alcohol bottles, or needles
  • Frequent social media postings that promote drinking alcohol or using illegal substances or legal substances in an illegal manner
  • Posts that mention pills, medicines, or illicit drugs
  • Posts exhibiting mood swings or erratic behavior, intense anger or depression and sadness
  • References to sleep deprivation, depression, and other mental health issues
  • Images that show a marked change in a person’s appearance; examples include weight loss, weight gain, skin changes, and bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in behavior after job loss, the death of a loved one or other significant life change

If any of these behaviors are noticed, it is possible that the person who posted the update may need to seek treatment.

Treating a substance use disorder or addiction while in the early stages can save money and years of trying to treat the disease before it worsens.

Some professionals in the medical community believe a closer look at the patterns that are revealed in social media posts could disclose warning flags that lead those struggling with substance abuse to intervention.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with problem drinking and/or alcohol-related problems, call (855) 619-8070 now for immediate help. At Drug Treatment Center Finder, our staff is available 24-7 in an effort to connect you with an addiction specialist nearest you. The addiction specialist will help lead you on the right track of recovery so you can regain sobriety and a healthy lifestyle.


Staff Writer :