; Paul Gallagher

A University of Glasgow study found teenagers may use social media to show off their drinking behaviour

As the amount of time spent on social media each day increased, so did the likelihood of alcohol use and binge drinking among adolescents, the research found (Photo: Johnny Green/PA Wire)

Social media may increase the risk of teenage alcohol use and binge drinking with peer pressure behind the rise, a study suggests.

A University of Glasgow led study analysed how often teenagers used social media every day at 14 years old and investigated if it influenced their reported use of alcohol aged 17, including potentially dangerous behaviours such as binge drinking.

Overall, the 17 year olds who had been spending 30 minutes or more each day on social media when they were aged 14 were more likely to report using alcohol, as well as report risky behaviour such as binge drinking. The more time young people spent on social media from at age 14 was also found to be closely related to the amount of alcohol they consumed, and how often.

The authors said adolescents may use social media to show off their drinking behaviour, thereby exposing their friends to more alcohol-related content.

“This could promote adolescent alcohol use, in line with the Facebook influence model, which suggests social media may amplify existing peer influence processes,” they said.

Compared to teenagers who spent one to less than 30 minutes on social media each day, those who spent between 30 minutes and less than 1 hour a day were 62 per cent more likely to drink alcohol six or more times a month, and 51 per cent more likely to binge drink.

As the amount of time spent on social media each day increased, so did the likelihood of alcohol use and binge drinking, with adolescents who spent two or more hours a day on social media almost five times more likely to report using alcohol than those who spent one to less than 30 minutes on the social media platforms.

The study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, looked at adolescent social media use at age 14, categorising teenagers into groups based on the amount of time they spent on social media apps every day. They then asked the same teenagers about their alcohol drinking habits at age 17 and compared the trends in each group.

The study also found that prolonged daily social media use impacted particular groups of teenagers more than others. The research highlighted that more time spent on social media had a greater influence on the likelihood of binge drinking amongst teenagers who were from wealthier backgrounds compared to those more disadvantaged.

The authors also said although social media can have several benefits to adolescent health, for example via online health interventions, the current lack of appropriate regulation of alcohol-related content “may undermine positive public health messaging around alcohol-related harm”.

Amrit Kaur Purba, the lead author of the study from the University of Glasgow, said: “Our study suggests social media use may increase risk of alcohol use and binge drinking, with evidence that the longer young people spend on social media the more likely they are to use alcohol by age 17.

“These findings add more weight to the argument that we need to create better tailored guidance for the length of time young people should spend on social media, accounting for their individual needs and circumstances, as well as prioritising regulation around how alcohol-related content is displayed to young users.”

Sebastian Kurten at MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, said although a strength of the paper is to show a clear correlation between social media use and drinking behaviour, its main limitation is that the authors cannot show a causal link between the two and they can also not offer an explanation for the mechanism that might link the two behaviours.

He told i: “For parents reading about this study: if they reduced social media use in their kids to less than 30 minutes a day, would they be at lower risk of alcohol use and binge drinking? That seems very unlikely. Drinking behavior occurs in the digital space but is not caused by social media per se. Although, there is evidence that social media use and binge drinking are connected, the relation between the two is not straightforward causal.

“My advice for parents would be that they should talk with their children about how they use social media, what kind of content they see, and what their friends are doing on social media.”


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