Social media has been linked to binge drinking, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia, published in the Drug and Alcohol Review. Just as people can get unrealistic ideas about other people’s fabulous lives from holiday pictures posted online, the posting of photos depicting drunken revelry on social media can lead people who see them to overestimate what constitutes a normal amount of alcohol consumption -- a phenomenon I am going to call “intoxication inflation.”
Based on a survey of 244 Australian college students, the study found that perceptions of other people’s drinking habits was shaped by social media, including Facebook. The study’s lead author, psychologist Bradley Ridout, explained how this dynamics leads young people to try to cultivate an image as drinkers as part of a bid for popularity: “The more drinking is depicted as socially desirable on Facebook, the more it perpetuates an online culture that normalizes binge drinking.”
However the study contained some good news as well, as social media and online messaging can also be used to counter incorrect perceptions about how much alcohol people actually consume.
The researchers delivered private messages on Facebook to college students with a tendency to engage in binge drinking, comparing their alcohol consumption with their friends’ actual consumption. This kind of intervention reduced alcohol consumption among recipients by around 50%, from an average of 40 drinks a month to just 20.
Back in 2013, researchers from the University of Southern California published research showing that teens who see photographs of friends smoking and drinking on social media are more likely to do so themselves.
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, was based on a survey of 1,563 tenth grade students in Los Angeles over a six-month period beginning October 2010, and revealed that 34% of respondents had at least one friend who talked about partying on social media, while 20% said their friends posted photos of them drinking online.