Social Media Use Could Indicate Problems With Alcohol, Study Shows

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Every Sunday morning, phones around the world blow up with blurry bar Snapchats and Instagrams of hungover brunch. It's a great way to keep up with your friends' lives, but such posts may have a dark side: According to recent research, social media use could indicate drinking problems in certain users.

In a study published in this month's Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, researchers at North Carolina State University and Ohio University analyzed the social media profiles and drinking habits of more than 360 undergraduate students. In an online survey, students described factors like alcohol consumption, social media use, and motivations for drinking. Perhaps most importantly, researchers asked students about how they used social media in relation to alcohol — specifically, whether they posted about drinking at all.

It's probably no surprise that participants who posted about it online were more likely to report problematic behaviors; previous research has turned up similar findings. However, the study found something particularly interesting: Posting about drinking was a better predictor of these behaviors than the action of having a drink. Basically, the way participants treated alcohol consumption was a more accurate gauge of drinking problems than the consumption itself.

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Of course, this isn't to say that sites like Facebook or Instagram cause these problems; rather, researchers found that the way you post online speaks volumes about your relationship with alcohol. According to researchers, this could be traced back to the personal nature of social media. If users considered alcohol important enough to talk about it online, it must be a priority. This was supported by the study's findings: The more fundamental participants considered alcohol to be in their lives, the more likely they were to post about it online.

"The strongest predictor of both drinking alcohol and posting about it on SNSs was espousing an alcohol identity — meaning that the individuals considered drinking a part of who they are," said lead coauthor Charee Thompson, according to Science Daily.

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Furthermore, researchers noted that social media could create a kind of feedback loop. People who post about alcohol online are more likely to become part of a culture that encourages more drinking, which could end up triggering a drinking problem.

So what's the takeaway here? Clearly, people who have trouble with alcohol drink, but the study is an indication that there are more factors at play than just overindulgence. In other words, drinking problems arise from the relationship with alcohol — posting about a night in with a bottle of wine is one thing, but if someone considers it a vital part of their life even when it affects them negatively, something is probably off.

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