The Connection Between Social Media and Binge Drinking
For previous generations, alcohol influence came primarily from their peers. Today’s teens face another major source of pressure – social media. From pro-drinking marketing campaigns to party pictures uploaded by influencers and friends, social media and binge drinking have become intimately entwined. Today, there is a tremendous risk of teens making life-threatening choices because of social media’s impact.
In 2018, 95 percent of teens (1) had a smartphone. Of those, 45 percent reported being online “almost constantly.” Parents no longer need to worry about the internet being merely a distraction from schoolwork. It is becoming a pivotal influence on their children’s behavior and upbringing. The messages they take in daily are shaping their views regarding important topics like love, sex, body image, and drinking.
The Influence of Social Media and Binge Drinking Habits
The content teens are routinely presented with has a major influence on their developing worldviews and identities. A 2011 study (2) by the Center on Addiction found teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who regularly used social networking sites were more likely to drink, smoke and do drugs.
Alcohol influence is not predominately coming from advertisements, either. Most teens see user-generated content by people whose content they actively follow. Some of the most popular creators online – called influencers – have an audience of millions. Although many of the images and videos teens encounter do not promote problematic drinking, teens who are exposed to more pro-social drinking posts are more likely to drink.
Underage drinking has been a common part of teenage identity exploration for years. More recently, however, the influence of peers to consume alcohol has diminished in comparison to the ideas teens are taking away from social media. Research (3) has found teens who view alcohol-related posts on social media drink more. Further, those who post about their alcohol consumption also tend to drink more than those who don’t.
Living Life Through Media
Many teens engage with content that reflects an ideal version of themselves and their life at any given time. The internet at large provides teens with an opportunity to “try on” different identities, explore various interests, hobbies and lifestyles. Through social media, teens effectively can become whomever they want, or more disturbingly, whomever they think they should be.
People tend to emulate the behaviors they observe. Those who are younger have less established identities and are more open to experimentation. Social learning theory suggests observation influences behavior. When it comes to today’s teenagers, the influence appears to be even stronger online than it is offline.
Those who see people on social media attending parties may be more likely to seek them out and attend in real life. If they have witnessed influencers and content creators drinking online, they may also be more likely to start drinking during social gatherings themselves. As teens act on emulating others, social media begins acting as a feedback loop and can reinforce a teen’s action as being “acceptable” among those they follow.
Alcohol becomes more than just something their parents tell them not to consume. It becomes a symbol of friendship and social acceptance. Teens who suffer from social anxiety may be at an even higher risk of binge drinking. These teens tend to drink in order to alleviate their feelings of nervousness around others.
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Defining Teen Alcohol Abuse
Underage drinkers between the ages of 12 and 20 consume 11 percent of all the alcohol in the entire United States (4). Binge drinking for adults is defined as drinking two or more alcoholic beverages in two hours. For teens, the number of drinks it takes to become intoxicated ranges from three to five.
Teenagers typically require fewer drinks to reach a blood alcohol content level (BAC) of 0.08. Not only does binge drinking affect their developing brains; it also increases their risk of assault, injury, and death. More than 4,300 teenagers die every year from alcohol-related car accidents. (5)
A 2017 survey (5) of youth risk behavior revealed that 30 percent of high school students reported drinking within the last month while 14 percent binge drank. In addition, 6 percent drove after drinking while 17 percent got into a car with someone who had been drinking.
Immediate risks of binge drinking are not the only concern; early influence and underage drinking can also lead to the development of an alcohol use disorder (AUD) that persists well throughout adulthood.
Teens with drinking problems are more likely to suffer from poor school performance, abuse other drugs and partake in unplanned or unwanted sexual activity. The best thing parents can do to protect their children is to start a conversation early. It is important to monitor their social media use and be open about the risks of alcohol. This can help off-set the influence of outside content.
Breaking the Social Media and Binge Drinking Cycle
Parents today are tasked with a challenge; raising children who can think beyond the influence of social media. A tall task considering social media plays a very real part of their teen’s everyday life. For many teens, social media is the real world.
Staying safe on and offline starts at home. Reducing exposure, providing information, and being a source of positive influence on teens’ lives can help combat the influence of modern social drinking culture. Fortunately, there are resources available for teens and parents to avoid the dangers of binge drinking. If you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse, please contact your nearest medical facility or contact a Springboard Recovery professional today.