Commentary

NIH Studies Social Media and Binge Drinking

OMG dude!  Do you think that social media might, like, create norms and expectations that subtly guide our actions, even influencing us to engage in self-destructive activity?  But wait, dude: isn’t that just another way of saying humans are social animals who take their cues from their peers? (Vomits)

 

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The National Institutes of Health recently solicited proposals for a new study investigating the ways social media encourages binge drinking, and also serve as a platform for “preventive interventions” to combat alcohol abuse. The NIH’s Funding Opportunity Announcement notes that social media may shape perceptions of acceptable levels of alcohol consumption and prompt alcohol abuse, as “the portrayal of oneself as a drinker, especially as one able to consume significant amounts of alcohol, is considered by many young people to be a socially desirable component of one’s identity.” Long story short, social media is yet another way to make booze look cool.

 

The NIH proposal solicitation further states, all too plausibly: “Underage drinking generally is not viewed as deviant behavior on such sites, that drinking on school nights is seemingly quite acceptable, and that getting ‘wasted’ (including blackouts) is hardly a cause for concern -- indeed, reconstructing with others the full range of ‘lost’ events following a bout of binge drinking seems mostly regarded as a fun activity.” At a simple logistical level, social media “may make it easier for adolescents to find a drinking party, to engage in pre-party activity, and/or to party longer.”

 

On the prevention side, the NIH also asks researchers to examine social media’s potential for curbing underage drinking through virtual interventions. Here the solicitation points to the ubiquity of smartphones, which allow interventions to reach the individual regardless of time or place.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, excessive alcohol consumption cost the U.S. $223.5 billion in 2006, due to losses in productivity, health care expenses, crime, and other factors.

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