Social Media Fueling Binge Drinking

Social Media Fueling Binge Drinking

While social media has exploded in popularity for allowing old and distant friends and family to reconnect and share, these sites have their downsides, from cyberbullying to online affairs. Binge drinking games are just another way in which social media gets misused, but it is also a deadly one.


One youthful social media craze that made headlines last year is a drinking game thought to have started with college students in Australia. Called neknominate, a participant films himself downing some type of drink, usually alcoholic and of huge size. He then posts the film on social media and challenges a friend to outdo him and post a video within 24 hours.

The game goes on and on with one person challenging another to an outlandish drinking stunt. Last year, news outlets reported on at least five young men who had died playing this extreme version of binge drinking. It has been played by thousands of young people around the world and the videos of the stunts go viral, encouraging vulnerable young people, even those not specifically challenged, to engage in similar dangerous actions.

Social Perception and Drinking

The neknominate game is an extreme example of how social media can influence young people to drink, and especially to binge drink. There are also far more subtle ways in which social media is increasing binge drinking. It all has to do with perception of social norms. All people, but teens especially, are hard-wired to fit in and to follow with the norms of a peer group. In more innocent ways, this helps teens make friends and get along with others, such as by following fashion or music trends.

The phenomenon is also at work in more insidious ways. Perceived social norms about drinking, or the idea that everyone is doing it, is one of the biggest drivers for underage drinking. Social media sites help to spread the perception of many things, including young people drinking excessively. When teens are inundated with images, tweets, videos and status updates about drinking, they start to believe that everyone is drinking and that the behavior is acceptable, even if the representation is exaggerated. This perception makes them more likely to binge drink.

Studying Social Media and Binge Drinking

With social media being a relatively new phenomenon, research on its effects is minimal. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is beginning research on how social media affects binge drinking to get a better idea of just how big the problem is and how to prevent it. That the NIH is prepared to spend funding on the research means that experts already believe that social media has played an important role in the rise of binge drinking. The research will confirm it and dig up details that could help change the pattern of underage and binge drinking.

Social media has much to account for when it comes to drinking behaviors among young people. It may be individuals posting about drinking and stunts, but it is the platform that sends the message worldwide. The regular appearance of messages, images and videos about drinking on social media adds to the idea that drinking, and especially drinking hard, is cool. This needs to change before more young people get sick, injured or even killed while drinking to excess.

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