Social Networking Sites Help Identify Alcohol Problems

As Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites are becoming more popular, there are many aspects of the sites that may prove useful. Parents who want an inside peek at their child’s social life may need only friend them on Facebook. Prospective employers can simply search their candidate on various sites to get an idea of whether the reality matches their resume.

A new study suggests that Facebook and sites like it may also be useful in identifying individuals who struggle with alcohol. Because many people who use social networking sites are willing to divulge even relatively private information on the sites, it provides clues to their drinking habits.

A study recently published by Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that sites like Facebook and MySpace may contain information that could help identify college students at risk for development of an alcohol use disorder.

Because alcohol is involved in so many injury cases and deaths among college students, there is a continual striving for improvement in screening data. Many at-risk students are identified using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), but it is really only useful for students who obtain health care from student centers. This method misses all students who seek health care elsewhere, or who don’t seek it at all.

The researchers, led by Megan A. Moreno, M.D., M.S.Ed., M.P.H., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and colleagues, recruited students from two state universities and had them complete questionnaires using the AUDIT clinical scale. A score of eight and higher indicates risk to have a drinking problem.

The researchers examined the Facebook profiles of 224 individuals who completed this survey. Of the profiles examined, 19.6 percent of the students included alcohol consumption references, 16.1 percent included intoxication references and 64.3 percent did not include any references to alcohol in their profiles.

The researchers found that 37.8 percent of those who referenced alcohol on their Facebook profiles were in the at-risk category for problem drinking. The analysis also showed that 58.3 percent of those who referenced intoxication or other problem drinking behaviors were found to be at-risk and 22.6 percent of those who did not mention alcohol at all on their Facebook profiles were at-risk for problem drinking.

The results of the study show that those students who include references to alcohol in their Facebook profile are at a higher risk for developing problem drinking behaviors. It is recommended that this information be used to encourage students with alcohol referenced on their Facebook pages to consider preventative education.