BEHAVIOR
January 9, 2019

Drunk on Snapchat

Some binge drinkers like to post their partying on social media. But the platforms can be used to help problem drinkers, too.

People who went to college and did stupid things while drunk before the advent of the Internet and social media can count themselves lucky. Today’s drunken undergraduates often find it entertaining to post on social media while drunk, and they may come to regret what they posted once they are sober. Their alcohol-fueled lapses in judgment could even influence school admissions and future job applications.

Social media can also play a role in identifying and preventing college-age binge drinking, however, a study finds. “Harm reduction” messages delivered in real time via mobile devices have been found to help prevent compulsive gambling. Similar messages delivered while students are drinking, but before they become too drunk to pay attention, could prevent an episode of drinking from becoming a binge.

Binge drinkers were more likely than non-binge drinkers to be emotionally invested in their social media activity, suggesting their use of different platforms became part of their identities.

Over 400 college undergraduates between the ages of 18 and 25 who were part of a larger study of social media use and health took part in the study. Eighty-four percent of the participants were women. The students filled out an online survey about their drinking habits, including how often they drank alcohol and how much. They were also asked whether they ever engaged in binge drinking, which the researchers defined as four or more drinks in one evening for women and five or more drinks for men.

Students were also queried about their use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, if they ever posted on their accounts while they were drinking or when they were drunk, and whether they experienced negative consequences related to their social media use.

Students who reported binge drinking were more likely to have posted on any social media platform while drunk, compared to those who said they did not binge drink. Binge drinkers were more likely than non-binge drinkers to be emotionally invested in their social media activity, suggesting their use of different platforms became part of their identities. And finally, binge drinkers used more social media platforms versus non-binge drinkers.

“Young people, when disinhibited by alcohol, may be even more likely to post inappropriate material without considering the future impact,” Natalie Ceballos, lead author, said in a statement. The kind of content posted while a person is drunk may reinforce binge drinking, the study found, especially if the posts depict alcohol-related fun and excitement. “When students get a positive response on social media, it might be rewarding to them in some way, and they get hooked,” said Ceballos, a professor of psychology at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Binge drinkers used Snapchat and Facebook most frequently, the researchers found, making these platforms a likely focus for developing future interventions. It's not clear what form social media-based programs should take, but Ceballos believes that advances in alcohol biosensor technology could make targeted intervention messages a reality in the near future.

The study is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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