Exposure to Alcohol Content Posted by Peers on Social Media Increases Alcohol Initiation and Heavy Drinking

Adolescents may be exposed to alcohol messages on social media and the impact of this exposure—whether and how it effects underage drinking—is unknown. The authors conducted a longitudinal study of 658 US high school students to investigate the impact of exposure to alcohol content on social media on drinking initiation and heavy alcohol use.

  • More than 20% of students reported exposure to alcohol-related content posted by peers and 7.5% reported having posted alcohol-related content themselves.
  • Exposure to friends’ alcohol-related social media content was associated with more favorable impressions of alcohol one year later.
  • More favorable impressions of alcohol were associated with higher rates of alcohol initiation and heavy drinking.

Comments: There has been enormous growth in adolescents’ use of social media in the past decade. Unlike face-to-face communication, messages posted on social media can be curated and controlled. In this regard, social media combines aspects of mass media (i.e., advertising) with more traditional peer interactions, both of which are known to influence teen alcohol use. Social media has the potential to amplify messages, and adolescents who see this content may be more likely to overestimate pro-drinking social norms. Strategies that present teens with actual data on drinking rates and attitudes may be an effective prevention mechanism.

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH


Reference: Nesi J, Rothenberg WA, Hussong AM, Jackson KM. Friends’ alcohol-related social networking site activity predicts escalations in adolescent drinking: mediation by peer norms. J Adolesc Health. 2017;60(6):641–647.

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