(CBS) Your Facebook page says a lot about people - their friends, favorite band, and your "farming" habits. But can it also tell whether they are at risk for drinking?
College students who post pictures and references to drunkenness are more likely to have a "clinically significant" drinking problem than students who don't post such references, according to the study, which was sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
For the study - published in the Oct. 3 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine - researchers examined public Facebook profiles of more than 300 undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Washington. The researchers contacted these students and asked them to complete a questionnaire that doctors use to measure a drinking problem.
The profiles were divided into three categories: those without alcohol references, those with references to alcohol but no mention of getting drunk, and those scattered with phrases like "being drunk" and "getting wasted." Not surprisingly, the students in the last group scored higher on the questionnaire. A score of 8 or higher indicates a person is at risk for problem drinking, and these student groups had average scores of 4.6, 6.7, and 9.5 respectively.
"We found that students whose Facebook status reports and photos contain these key references to intoxication and problem drinking are four times as likely as those whose profiles do not to actually have a drinking problem," study author Dr. Megan A. Moreno, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, told HealthDay.
Approximately half of students who use alcohol report direct alcohol-related harms, and as many as 1,700 college student deaths each year are alcohol related, according to the authors.
Can anything be done to intervene and help these kids avoid alcohol problems?
The researchers said it's possible, by using Facebook - to spot the problem early and intervene.
"Our study suggests that parents and college health care providers who note references to problem drinking on the Facebook profiles of adolescents should consider discussing drinking habits with their children and patients," Moreno said in a written statement.