Social Media and Alcohol Abuse among Adolescents

Students of Applied Psychology & Technology teamed up past semester (2022-2023) to write blog posts. You can read the three best posts here: on virtual reality and pain reduction, social media and alcohol abuse among adolescents, and binge-watching.

By Manuel Arregui Carvajal & Loa Bucco

Breaking News

As if #alcohol consumption is not bad enough, #socialmedia is making the problem among #youngsters and adolescents even worse. Is prevention failing all the way through or is there still some hope left for science saving generations of alcohol abuse?

Social Media and Alcohol Abuse 

Today’s generation of teenagers and young adults are growing up in an environment of social media. Instagram and Tiktok, as well as various other platforms, are part of everyday life for many. These social media platforms use and encourage user-generated content and interactions with one another (Lenhart et al., 2005). However, in recent years, pictures and messages related to alcohol, which remains the most used drug among adolescents (Johnston et al., 2013), are becoming more frequent in these types of “apps”. Although alcohol consumption, especially in adolescence, carries various risks and can lead to physical, psychological, and social harm (WHO, 2015), major alcohol brands have taken advantage of the influence that social networks have on young people for their advertising (Chester et al., 2010). In fact, researchers have estimated that approximately two-thirds of alcohol marketing is shared via social media (Saffer & Dave, 2006). Some of their strategies are product placement, sponsorship and celebrity endorsement (WHO, 2015).

Furthermore, even though there are many factors that play a role in young people’s drinking, research shows that young people develop their drinking behavior through assumptions about alcohol consumption among their peers, as well as through the observation of role models in the media (Anderson et al., 2009), where normally only the positive aspects of alcohol consumption are shown, and negative events, such as over-intoxication, are avoided (Moewaka et al., 2016). But what impact does this have on young adults?

Research has shown how social media can affect decision-making, since most of us are susceptible to our behavior being influenced by what we see on those platforms. Knowing that alcohol-related posts usually receive a lot of likes and comments, this can make people want to share similar content and therefore start drinking earlier and earlier. Thus, when younger, and more vulnerable, people only view alcohol content in a positive light, it makes drinking a normal behavior among these groups of people (Andrew, 2022). Finally, it has also been shown that adolescents’ self-concept is influenced by their interaction with media and vice versa (Steele & Brown, 1995), as well as their drinking self-identity.

Currently, behavioral health researchers have developed numerous mobile phone based mHealth interventions to treat health conditions such as AUD (alcohol use disorder), many of which depend on a primary function of mobile phones: text messaging. However, text-message-based interventions have shown mixed results (Quanbeck et al., 2014).

There have also been attempts to develop smartphone-based mHealth “apps”, however even those designed to reduce alcohol consumption have little or no evidence. This reflects that there is a need for the development of smartphone-apps to treat and reduce the problem with alcohol that more and more people suffer in our society (Meredith et al., 2015).

It can be concluded that social media acts as a widespread, readily available, and constantly accessible source of information for adolescents and young adults. In this regard, the power of interpersonal persuasion is combined with the reach of social media and which can consequently significantly influence the decisions of young adults and adolescents (Moreno et al., 2014). Thus, it is up to the scientific community to figure out how to effectively combat alcohol use and abuse among young adults and adolescents, and what prevention might look like, especially through social media.



ABC 10 News. (2017). Study says glamorization of alcohol on social media can lead to underage alcohol abuse [Video]. YouTube.

Anderson, P., De Bruijn, A., Angus, K., Gordon, R., & Hastings, G. (2009). Impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on adolescent alcohol use: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Alcohol and alcoholism, 44(3), 229-243.

Andrew, D., (2022). Just a moment… . THE GOOD MEN PROJECT.

Chester, J., Montgomery, K., & Dorfman, L. (2010). Alcohol marketing in the digital age. eSocialSciences.

Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E. (2013). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2012. Volume II: College students and adults ages 19-50.

Lenhart, A., Madden, M., Paul Hitlin. (2005). Teens and Technology: Youth are leading the transition to a fully wired and mobile nation. Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Meredith, S. E., Alessi, S. M., & Petry, N. M. (2015). Smartphone applications to reduce alcohol consumption and help patients with alcohol use disorder: a state-of-the-art review. Advanced health care technologies, 1, 47.

Moewaka Barnes, H., McCreanor, T., Goodwin, I., Lyons, A., Griffin, C., Hutton, F. (2016). Alcohol and social media: drinking and drunkenness while online. Critical Public Health, 26(1), 62-76.

Moreno M.A., Whitehill, J.M., (2014). Influence of Social Media on Alcohol Use in Adolescents and Young Adults. Alcohol Research, 36(1), 91–100.

Quanbeck, A., Chih, M. Y., Isham, A., Johnson, R., & Gustafson, D. (2014). Mobile delivery of treatment for alcohol use disorders: a review of the literature. Alcohol research: current reviews, 36(1), 111.

Regional Office for the Western Pacific, W. H. Organization. (2015). How alcohol harms young people and what you can do about it. WHO.

Saffer, H., & Dave, D. (2006). Alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption by adolescents. Health economics, 15(6), 617-637.

Steele, J. R., Brown, J. D. (1995). Adolescent room culture: Studying media in the context of everyday life. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24(5), 551–576.

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