We witness the power of the internet in general — and of social media in particular — every day. For most of us, there are few aspects of our life that have not been affected in some way by the power of these forces. Never before has it been so easy to connect with other people and to engage with the rest of the world. This constant sharing of our lives, however, can also bring with it negative consequences. Primary among these is the relationship between addiction — and especially alcohol addiction — and social media.
Drinking and Social Media: A Dangerous Combination
There are several levels at which social media can affect a person’s drinking. On the most basic level, social media can reinforce society’s broad acceptance of a drinking culture. Companies that advertise alcohol use these platforms to push their products. Restaurants, bars, and delivery services use them to promote their happy hours, promotions, and specials. Social media platforms are also where people organize and advertise parties, events, and get-togethers, many of which involve alcohol. Companies and individuals who use social media in this way are, of course, entirely within their rights. For an individual struggling with an alcohol use problem, however, this can lead to abuse and relapse.
Additionally, social media exposes young people to images of a particular type of drinking: the culture of excessive and binge drinking. Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism1 indicates that seeing images and videos of people who are drinking, drunk, passed out from excessive consumption, or engaged in other kinds of risky behavior correlates with riskier behavior offline. This is particularly dangerous given the high saturation of unregulated alcohol marketing on sites aimed at underage people.
Direct Marketing of Alcohol on Social Media
In traditional advertising venues like magazines and television, there are restrictions in place that block young people’s exposure to certain kinds of advertisements. This does not apply to social media. More insidious still, social media makes it easy for advertisers to target particular demographics — like teenagers — and develop relationships with them. Young people might be asked to “like” alcoholic products, to post photos of themselves using such products, or even to attend events. This relative lack of restriction, combined with the interactive nature of these platforms, makes drinking and social media a dangerous combination.
Even the most attentive parents are not in a position to block all of the references which a teenager will see to alcohol and other substances online. The marketing is simply too saturated. However, with a little bit of foreknowledge and some serious discussions, parents can help their children navigate these waters and steer clear of underage alcohol use.
The Positive Side of Drinking and Social Media
Despite all of the problems associated with the relationship between drinking and social media, there is a bright side. While it is true that social media is saturated with voices advocating alcohol and drug use, it is also an excellent place for people who need help to reach out. While it is a sad fact that most of the millions of Americans battling addiction will not get the help they need, social media platforms have exponentially increased people’s ability to reach out for help and to find a community of peers in recovery. There are hundreds of thousands of Facebook groups, Twitter chats, chatroom meetings, and podcasts that address addiction and aim to provide a safe space for individuals with these issues to reach out. Additionally, as COVID-19 has forced people to keep an appropriate social distance, self-help groups such as the 12-step programs and SMART Recovery are now offering meetings online. In this sense, social media can be a force for good in the recovery community.
Learn More About Drinking and Social Media at New Bridge Foundation
If you are worried that you or someone you care about is getting negative exposure to alcohol on social media and want to learn more, our dedicated staff members at New Bridge Foundation are standing by. Reach out to us online or call 866.772.8491 today to join us in our campaign to use social media as a tool for good in the addiction community.