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Social Media may help college students with drinking problems

By Colin Ricketts - 05 Oct 2011 11:36:0 GMT
Social Media may help college students with drinking problems

With students spending as much time on updating their cyber friends on their latest moves as they do on studying, clinicians believe that social media sites like Facebookcould be a vital tool in spotting the early signs of developing addictions.

The American study, published in Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, reveals that around 1,700 US students die each year of alcohol related causes with as many as half of those who drink reporting some health problems related to alcohol.

There are already myriad tests to spot problem drinkers, including the standard Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, or AUDIT, which asks patients a series of questions about their use of alcohol. But students aren't known for their attendance at medical centres, and, faced with questions like AUDIT's: "How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?" may not answer truthfully.

A University of Wisconsin team lead by Dr Megan A Moreno decided to seek out a new way to reach students who may be, or who may become, alcohol dependent in one of their natural habitats, the meeting places of the World Wide Web, specifically the big beast of the social media jungle, Facebook.

Dr Moreno and her team used the AUDIT's 10 question system - a score of eight or higher out of a possible total of 26 indicates a problem drinking risk - to test whether reports of drinking and drunkenness on Facebook were a good indicator of alcohol problems too.

The authors looked at the Facebook profiles of 224 18-20-year-old students at two state universities. They analysed the profiles for reports of drinking and intoxication, finding that 64.3% of the students didn't talk about alcohol at all; 19.6% did refer to drinking and 16.1% spoke of being drunk or of problem drinking.

The AUDIT questionnaire was then completed by 216 of the 224 students and the medics found that Facebook profiles were a pretty good indicator of whether or not students were at risk of problem drinking.

The AUDITs revealed that 35.4% of the students were judged to be at risk from problem drinking. But 58.3% of those whose profiles displayed references to drunkenness and drink problems scored above the cut-off on AUDIT. This group were also reporting alcohol related injuries at double the rate of those who spoke about alcohol but not intoxication and six times more likely than those who didn't discuss alcohol on their profiles to report such an injury.

The team believe that Facebook and similar sites could now be a great way to reach a hard-to-engage audience and to spot burgeoning drink problems in youngsters.

Top Image Crdit: © bayberry/Facebook

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