Facebook: it’s great for connecting with old friends, secretly reassuring yourself that your ex is still, in fact, a loser, and posting photos of your vacation so your grandmother doesn’t email you asking to see them. It may also, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, be the key to early intervention for college students who are at risk of developing alcoholism.
The study, which Reuters reported on this morning, studied the public profiles and photos of a few hundred undergrads, and identified which had no mention or images of drinking, which had some socially-acceptable or healthy mention or images, and which had made mention of problematic behavior or photos that indicated heavy use. They then followed the examination with a 10-question survey for the student studied about their use of alcohol.
The results were pretty predictable. Over half of the students whose profiles mentioned or displayed dangerous drinking behavior or overt drunkenness were considered to be at risk for problem drinking, whereas fewer than a quarter of those whose profiles made no mention of drinking were at risk.
It’s not particularly surprising that students who are vocal about their use (and abuse) of booze on Facebook are more likely to be problem drinkers, because for many, Facebook is simply an easily-manipulated extension or representation of real life. After all, with as much control over what to display as the social network allows users now, untagging photos and hiding incriminating information isn’t difficult. But that requires a student to know what could be incriminating, or what may be viewed as a problem. So it’s not a stretch to assume that students who actively discuss or brag about their excessive and post or leave tagged copious photos where they’re clearly inebriated don’t see this behavior as indicative of a larger issue–like their potential alcoholism.
The researchers leading this study noted that the information they’ve uncovered (or rather, made factual, rather than speculative) could be of use for college campuses looking to cut down on drinking. By approaching students whose Facebook pages exhibit the potential for dangerous drinking, the researchers hope that college administrators and health officials can offer assistance.
Of course, this is assuming that a possibly binge-drinking college student would be receptive to that sort of assistance, particularly considering that borderline problem drinking has essentially become par for the course on most campuses.
Still, most college students have seen (or been given) a test for alcoholism at some point–many college campuses even mandate them as part of a routine health screening. Which means its likely that even those students who didn’t score as being at risk may still be–they just know better than to answer questions about getting injured, blacking out, getting in trouble, or other behavior that’s widely known to be an indicator of a problem. Thus, their Facebook profiles may actually be more helpful in identifying who needs help.
And if a student knows their drinking may be bordering on dangerous, having it brought to their attention that their Facebook profile makes it obvious to everyone else may actually be pretty helpful in getting them on the path toward a healthy relationship with the sauce.
Image: The Drunk People Helping Drunker People group on Facebook, which is possibly one of the most depressing sites of all time.