NIH to Spend $200K Studying Teenage Drinking Binges on Social Media

By Alissa Tabirian | August 1, 2013 | 10:24am EDT

(AP Photo)

( – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking researchers to investigate the impact of social media use on underage drinking, and to determine whether Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other popular social networking sites can be used for “preventive interventions.”

According to the NIH’s Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), recent studies “found that an increase in [the] number of Facebook friends was significantly associated with an increase in displayed alcohol references.”

Alcohol advertising in “Groups, Events, Applications, and Pages” as well as friends’ photos with alcohol, are expected to impact drinking behavior, since “the portrayal of oneself as a drinker, especially as one able to consume significant amounts of alcohol, is considered by many young people to be a socially desirable component of one’s identity.”

“Underage drinking generally is not viewed as deviant behavior on such sites, that drinking on school nights is seemingly quite acceptable, and that getting ‘wasted’ (including blackouts) is hardly a cause for concern – indeed, reconstructing with others the full range of ‘lost’ events following a bout of binge drinking seems mostly regarded as a fun activity,” the grant announcement explained.

“Being logged on to a SNS . . . may make it easier for adolescents to find a drinking party, to engage in pre-party activity, and/or to party longer,” the grant announcement adds.

The “Implications of New Digital Media Use for Underage Drinking, Drinking-Related Behaviors, and Prevention Research” grant offers up to $200,000 for research into “the ways in which new digital media may be utilized as platforms for preventive interventions aimed at underage drinking and related problems.”

Data suggests that “alcohol use increasingly is mentioned and visually displayed in many adolescents’ SNS [social networking site] profiles,” and could therefore “play a role in altering SNS users’ drinking initiations and trajectories.”

Suggested research topics include identifying whether “the display of underage alcohol use” on sites such as Facebook is increasing, or to what extent social networking sites “promote 21st birthday celebrations that involve drinking, Spring Break drinking behaviors, and pre-partying drinking behavior.”

An additional area of focus could be the prevention of underage drinking through interventions such as smartphone apps, as “the new mobile technologies enable the investigator to bring the intervention to the participant wherever the latter happens to be in physical space.”

According to its mission statement, the NIH hopes “to foster fundamental creative discoveries, innovative research strategies, and their applications as a basis for ultimately protecting and improving health,” as well as “to expand the knowledge base in medical and associated sciences in order to enhance the Nation’s economic well-being and ensure a continued high return on the public investment in research.”

When asked by CNSNews to explain why U.S. taxpayers should pay to study teenage drinking binges on Facebook and other social networking sites, a spokesperson responded, “Research into unhealthy human behaviors that are estimated to be the proximal cause of more than half of the disease burden in the U.S. will continue to be an important area of research supported by NIH.”

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