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Teenagers: Social media may increase the risk of alcohol use

Teenagers who spend 30 minutes or more on social media every day may be more at risk of alcohol use and binge drinking, according to new research.

The latest study, which is led by the University of Glasgow and published in the European Journal of Public Health, analysed how often teenagers used social media every day at 14 years and investigated if it influenced their reported use of alcohol at 17 years, including potentially dangerous behaviours such as binge drinking.

Overall, the 17 year-olds who had been spending 30 minutes or more each day on social media when they were aged 14 were more likely to report using alcohol, as well as report risky behaviour such as binge drinking. The more time young people spent on social media from at age 14 was also found to be closely related to the amount of alcohol they consumed, and how often.

Compared to teenagers who spent one to less than 30 minutes on social media each day, those who spent between 30 minutes and less than 1 hour a day were 62% more likely to drink alcohol six or more times a month, and 51% more likely to binge drink. As the amount of time spent on social media each day increased, so did the likelihood of alcohol use and binge drinking, with adolescents who spent 2 or more hours a day on social media almost five times more likely to report using alcohol than those who spent 1 to less than 30 minutes on the social media platforms.

In addition, the study found that prolonged daily social media use impacted particular groups of teenagers more than others. The research highlighted that more time spent on social media had a greater influence on the likelihood of binge drinking amongst teenagers who were more socioeconomically advantaged compared to those more disadvantaged.

The researchers say that in order to better protect adolescents from alcohol use, we must prioritise better tailored guidance on the amount of time young people should spend on social media, as well as considering regulatory action to protect teenagers from harmful alcohol-related social media.

Amrit Kaur Purba, the lead author of the study from the University of Glasgow, said: “Our study suggests social media use may increase risk of alcohol use and binge drinking, with evidence that the longer young people spend on social media the more likely they are to use alcohol by age 17.

“These findings add more weight to the argument that we need to create better tailored guidance for the length of time young people should spend on social media, accounting for their individual needs and circumstances, as well as prioritising regulation around how alcohol-related content is displayed to young users.”

The study looked at adolescent social media use at age 14, categorising teenagers into groups based on the amount of time they spent on social media apps every day. They then asked the same teenagers about their alcohol drinking habits at age 17 and compared the trends in each group.

The paper, ‘The relationship between time spent on social media and adolescent alcohol use: a longitudinal analysis of the UK Millennium Cohort Study’ is published in the European Journal of Public Health. The work was supported by the Medical Research Council, the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office, NHS Research Scotland and the Wellcome Trust.


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