Alcohol is everywhere from stores, to restaurants, to backyard barbecues.  With tablets and cellphones, it is now constantly at our fingertips. Read more on how, and who, alcohol in social media is impacting.

Who Uses Social Media?

Today, 72% of Americans use social media. Some of the most popular sites include YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Teenagers and young adults are some of the main users, with people ages 18 to 24 favoring Instagram and Snapchat. They are using the sites at least once a day, with over 60% reporting that they use social media multiple times per day. With countless advertisers and friends posting what they do, eat, and drink 24 hours a day, it is impossible to avoid seeing content that features alcohol. Who is that content reaching, and how is it affecting viewers?

Social Media Posts and Alcohol

Alcohol Is Very Pervasive In Social MediaStudies have shown that if a young persons’ social circle drinks alcohol, they are more likely to do so as well. Does that translate into the digital world too? The answer is yes. Exposure to alcohol posts on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook predict more alcohol consumption, and those who post about alcohol online have increased drinking behavior. A study published in the National Institutes of Health studied the link between alcohol and social media and found that when young people posted photos of alcohol, it was usually in a positive social context, such as a holiday party. Posts that were social, e.g. multiple friends in the photo, received more likes and comments than non-social posts. This might reinforce the posts and encourage young people to continue sharing that behavior.

Alcohol-related posts are not just photos. Adolescences write tweets and status’ about getting drunk, but rarely include negative consequences such as hangovers or embarrassment from the night before. Posting about one health risk behavior (consuming alcohol or other substances) also makes it more likely that someone is engaging in more risky behavior such as unsafe sex. What peers post is certainly an influence, but it is not the only influence. Alcohol advertisements are reaching people of all ages on various platforms.

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Alcohol Advertisements

In the US alone, alcohol companies spend about $2 billion every year on advertising. Ads span across television, magazines, and of course social media. There are laws for advertising alcohol because it is an addictive and mind-altering substance. There are groups for beer, wine, and spirits that make sure ads comply with codes. The Distilled Spirits Council has a list on what is and isn’t allowed in advertisements. Some of the items from the list include:

  • Advertisements cannot depict a child or portray items such as cartoons that appeal to people below the legal purchase age
  • Advertisements cannot contain the name or depict Santa Claus
  • Advertisements cannot market drinking alcohol as a “rite of passage”
  • Models and actors in advertisements must be at least 25

There is a separate list for digital marketing with more rules stating that the ad should only be placed in media where at least 71.6% of the audience is expected to be of legal drinking age. Web pages should require age affirmation, and any user-generated content must be monitored on a regular basis. Despite all of the guidelines, alcohol ads are still appearing on teen’s social media feeds.

A researcher from Texas A&M University made 10 fake Twitter and Instagram profiles pretending to be middle school, high school, and college students under age 21 and interacted with various alcohol companies. Besides an age verification for following a Twitter page for an alcohol company, there were no other restrictions to follow and share alcohol content. By the end of the study, the profiles received hundreds of alcohol advertisements. The concerning part is that these advertisements work.

A study out of Michigan State University showed groups of people a beer advertisement and a water advertisement on Facebook. Afterwards, each participant was offered a gift card for either a coffee shop or a bar. The group who saw the beer ad were much more likely to pick the bar gift card compared to the water group.

The Dangers of Underage Drinking

Moderate drinking for adults is one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. While an occasional glass of wine is considered to be comparatively low risk, consuming alcohol with a young developing brain might lead to lifelong impairments. Young people drink the heaviest in their late teens and early twenties and are more likely to binge drink and suffer from alcohol withdrawal. This risky drinking can put young people in danger of many consequences including injury, alcohol poisoning, and traffic related fatalities. In fact, 51 percent of young drivers who died in traffic crashes tested positive for alcohol.

Alcohol Problems In Adolescents

The National Household Survey found that 11 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds are binge drinkers. It is important to assess young people at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder and find the right treatment plan for them. Not only is it more cost effective to treat these adolescents as soon as possible, it also gives them a better change at recovery. Contact a professional treatment provider to get more information if you believe your child or loved one is at risk.

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