Drunken Facebook posts may be indication of alcohol abuse, study shows
Among the shot glasses, spilled bottles, pungent smell of beer and clamor of raging party-goers, the sight of flashes and compact cameras can often go unnoticed.
But the same cannot be said for the day-after pictures that show up on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, @@both checked@@prompting laughter or embarrassing memories. Yet a new study @@checked@@from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Washington @@both checked@@now suggests that those postings — apart from being interesting breakfast table conversations — serve as strong indicators that a student is at clinical risk of having a drinking problem.
In the study, entitled “Associations Between Displayed Alcohol References on Facebook and Problem Drinking Among College Students,” Megan Moreno and other researchers examined public Facebook profiles of more than 300 undergraduate students from their respective universities. After analyzing a year’s worth of posts and pictures from each person, the profiles were then divided into three specific categories: those that had no alcohol references, those that had references to alcohol but not to intoxication and those that had references to “being drunk” or “getting wasted.” The owners of these Facebook profiles were then asked to complete an online version of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, @@checked@@an alcohol assessment test that examines drinking frequency and the negative consequences that come from drinking.
“What we found on Facebook suggests that people who are posting information about dangerous alcohol use are probably more at risk for alcohol use,” said Moreno, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health[email protected]@checked@@ “I’m hoping that our study will prompt people to start having some of those tough conversations and checking in with people that they know if they display these risk factors and encouraging them to get more formal clinical evaluations.”@@OK to identify her position on second [email protected]@
The study, which was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, @@checked@@revealed that 58 percent of those students whose Facebook posts had references to “problem drinking” behaviors such as drunk driving, blacking out and drinking alone met the clinical definition for at-risk problem drinking. Likewise, 38 percent of those students who displayed alcohol in pictures or status updates were at risk of problem drinking behaviors.
“Facebook is a place where people are displaying behaviors and attitudes that are really consistent with their identities,” Moreno said. “In a way, I think we’re shining more light on the problem, but it’s a problem that many people know was already there.”
Because students are not as likely to disclose their problems with their physicians or school counselors, Moreno said she is hopeful students will take a more proactive stance in addressing the issue with their peers — who may themselves be exhibiting problem drinking behaviors. “I think those are the people who are most likely to notice it, have access to that person’s profile and probably make an impact if they let that person know they’re a little worried,” she said.
However, beyond the possible risks of publicly displayed hints of an alcohol problem, Moreno noted that students also put themselves at a risk for legal consequences when they post pictures of alcohol and other illegal substances in their photos or write about such things in their posts.
“I don’t think that the legal community is out there cruising underage students’ Facebook profiles; otherwise, they’d be arresting probably half of many campuses. But there are definitely cases in which a person that got arrested for drunk driving or caused an accident — that the information on their Facebook profile could be used in court proceedings.”
Hugh Duvall, @@checked@@a local criminal defense attorney, said that he has never seen a case that was completely built upon photos or posts during his 23 years of defending students in court. However, Duvall said that he and others in law practice have used them as supplemental evidence in a case.
“Students should never post anything presenting them in a negative light,” Duvall said. “We advise folks to obey the law whether they like it or not, but it never ceases to amaze me what poor choices people can make and what they say or photographs that they post.”
Even if posts on social networking sites are only viewable to friends, a person’s privacy may still not be guaranteed because a citizen can always report that illegal activity.
“If you are accused of wrongdoing and those photographs or statements by you come to the attention of the authorities, they can be used against you,” Duvall said. “If you’re breaking the law, there’s nothing good that can come out of posting your misbehavior.”