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Research Review

Social Media May Help Identify College Drinking Problems

College students who post references to getting drunk, blacking out, or other aspects of dangerous drinking on social networking sites are more likely to have clinically significant alcohol problems than students who do not post such references, according to a study supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Washington, Seattle, examined public Facebook profiles of more than 300 undergraduate students at those universities. The researchers divided the profiles into three categories: those that had no alcohol references; those that had alcohol references but no references to intoxication or problem drinking; and those that included references to “being drunk,” “getting wasted,” or other problem drinking behaviors. They also invited the profile owners to complete an online version of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), a screening tool that clinicians use to measure problem drinking.

"We found that underage college students who referenced dangerous drinking habits, such as intoxication or blacking out, were more likely to have AUDIT scores that indicate problem drinking or alcohol-related injury," says first author Megan A. Moreno, MD, an assistant professor of adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. An AUDIT score of 8 or higher indicates an individual is at risk for problem drinking. The three groups in the study had average AUDIT scores of 4.7, 6.7, and 9.5, respectively.

Moreno and her colleagues note that, because many students do not seek routine or preventive healthcare at student health centers, innovative approaches are needed to identify college students who are at risk for problem drinking.

"Underage college students and adolescents frequently display references to alcohol on Facebook," says Moreno. "Our study suggests that parents and college healthcare providers who note references to problem drinking on the Facebook profiles of adolescents should consider discussing drinking habits with their children and patients."

— Source: National Institutes of Health