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Identifying Problem Drinking Among College Students May Be Helped By Social Media Sites

Grace Rattue -- According to a study published Online First by Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, websites, like MySpace and Facebook, might expose information that could help identify underage college students who might be at risk for developing a drinking problem.

Alcohol is responsible for several injuries and deaths among college students in the United States. The researchers explain:

"Approximately half of students who use alcohol report direct alcohol-related harms, and as many as 1,700 college student deaths each year are alcohol related." The authors also highlight that even though screening tools, such as the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), are available to help identify individuals with a drinking problem, it is a challenge to screen college students as several do not seek health care at student centers. The researchers say: "one novel approach to identify college students who are at risk for problem drinking may be social networking sites (SNSs), such as Facebook and MySpace."

Using the AUDIT clinical Scale, 10-questions that evaluates dependence, harm, consumption, or consequences of alcohol use, Megan A. Moreno, M.D., M.S.Ed., M.P.H., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and colleagues, assessed the connections between self-reported drinking problem and intoxication/problem drinking (I/PD) of undergraduate students (aged between 18-20) at two state universities who had public Facebook profiles. A score of 8+ reveals the individual is at risk for problem drinking.

Out of the 307 profiles the researchers identified, 224 individuals who completed the survey were incorporated in the investigation (73% response rate). Of the Facebook profiles examined 19.6% of individuals had references to alcohol consumption (alcohol displayers), 16.1% had references to intoxication or problem drinking (I/PD displayers), and 64.3% had no references to alcohol (non-displayers). 216 individuals completed all the ADUIT questions and were given a total score. AUDIT scores vary between 0 to 26, with a mean score of 5.8 and a median score of 5. A score of eight or higher indicated a risk for problem drinking. 35.4% of those who participated scored 8 or higher.

They discovered that 37.8% of alcohol displayers on Facebook were positively connected with being in the at-risk for problem drinking category, 58.3% of those who displayed I/PD were in the at-risk category, and 22.6% of non-displayers. As a group the AUDIT scores were:

-- I/PD displayers 9.5
-- Non-displayers 4.7
-- Alcohol displayers 6.7

Those who displayed I/PD had a 1.48 times higher score in comparison with alcohol displayers. Between women in all groups, the difference was not statistically considerable. However, men who displayed I/PD had an 89% higher score in comparison to men who did not display any references to alcohol.

Furthermore, individuals who displayed I/PD were over two fold as likely to report an alcohol-related injury in the past 12 months in comparison to alcohol displayers (19% versus 7%), and over six times more likely as non-displayers (19% versus 3%).

The researchers conclude:

"These study findings can be used for offering evidence-based guidance recommending that students who display references to I/PD on Facebook undergo clinical screening for problem alcohol use. Our findings suggest that targeting keywords that relate to I/PD, rather than to general keywords regarding alcohol, may provide an innovative method to deliver a tailored message to a target population."

© 2012 MedicalNewsToday

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