It’s no secret that main stream media has historically taken steps to make alcohol consumption look “cool,” but it’s also pretty well-known that advertising limitations have been put on alcohol companies (for example: you can’t consume alcohol in a commercial) in an attempt to sway young minds away from thinking that everything about alcohol is rainbows and butterflies.
These limitations exist because of a long list of statistics (sometimes staggering) contributing alcohol to a number of issues, including abuse and domestic violence, vehicle accidents, and poor performance at work (among many others).
Social media certainly has its upsides, and has been proven to be a great way for kids to still be able to converse with their friends during the times of school closures and no sports, but it is far less regulated than the main stream media, and relevant to alcohol, this can be a very real issue. For instance, many children suffer from anxiety, and those who do are more likely to look beyond their medications as ways to cope… including alcohol.
Dr. Kent Bausman, a professor in the online sociology program at Maryville University says that “social media posts of young adults and adolescents engaged in alcohol or illicit drug consumption frequently receive positive attention through ‘likes’ from their peers. This is important, as some have argued that this serves as an extension of positive reinforcement increasing the likelihood of repeating these negative behaviors.”
However, he notes that it is important to consider that when it comes to “experimentation with alcohol and illicit drugs prior to the explosion of social media, research has always noted the importance of who one associated with in predicting use. Adolescents and young adults that engage in excessive alcohol consumption or abuse of illicit drugs are more likely to have in their social network similarly engaged individuals.”
There are fair arguments on both sides of the proverbial coin when it comes to limiting and/or censoring what can be posted on social media. The majority of the time, censorship regarding individual posts is very limited, aiming to prevent nudity and hate speech, but not much else. When it comes to paid advertising on social media, there are a few more rules, most of which stems from similar laws pertaining to mainstream advertising.
Unfortunately, though, the vast majority of social media postings that are seen are personal posts, devoid of any limitations on alcohol use or even promotion. In a Columbia University survey, it was determined that teens who use social media are more likely to use alcohol, simply put. Compared to kids who have never seen a photo of people drinking, those who have are 3 times more likely to use the drug during their teen years, and many of those surveyed could not remember their first time seeing someone drinking on social media.
According to Dr. Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers, assistant professor at Duquesne University, “alcohol-related posts can also influence how much young people drink by influencing young people’s perceptions of how much other people drink. If a young person is a heavier drinker, they may see other people posting heavy drinking content and believe that the majority of other youths are engaging in that behavior, which in turn, can encourage them to maintain their heavy drinking.”
For college-aged social media users (about half of whom can legally consume alcohol), there are direct relations to those who post pictures of alcohol consumption and those who develop binge drinking problems. Alcohol companies looking to slide by the mainstream regulations certainly aren’t helping, and offer incentives to those legal-age social media users who tag themselves drinking a given brand of beer, liquor, seltzer, etc.
“On the other hand, youths who do not drink but are exposed to alcohol-related content on social media may believe that they are the only ones that do not drink. Thus, they may feel the need drink to fit in. This can be problematic in that students generally receive overwhelming positive feedback on their alcohol-related posts to social media, which can lead to cyclical increases in drinking and posting of alcohol-related content, not only among the individual student, but also among those within their social media network,” Dr. Steers adds.
Social media is also home to an endless supply of special offers for “checking in” at a certain restaurant, or posting a picture of that establishment…. And almost all of these special offers involve some discounted drinks. With that in mind, even in the simplest, most innocent ways, social media is responsible for increases in alcohol consumption in the United States, and avoiding social media is as difficult as it is impractical, given all of the positive uses (including groups for recovering alcoholics to mingle online and things of the like). With that in mind, regulation can only prevent so much, but it might be worth taking some steps to at least help turn around the numbers mentioned regarding youth and alcohol consumption relevant to social media use.
Helping the Issue
If you’re a parent, keeping an eye on your children’s social media usage is certainly easier said than done in a world of tablets and cell phones, but it really can make a difference in limiting their alcohol consumption. Simply talking to your kids about what they may see on social media and sharing some of the not-so-appealing effects alcohol can have on the mind, body, relationships, and more is also an important step because, let’s face it, keeping an eye on all of their social media use would be a full-time job.
Combatting the bad with the good is also a solid move for adults, and sharing statistics about alcohol on your own pages can help people mellow out on their usage a bit, and also doing things like sharing resources for recovering alcoholics can help add some to the “good” column in the alcohol-and-social-media continuum.
Guest Author Bio
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.