Social media users' posts about alcohol can help predict alcohol problems among college students, a new study found. Having this type of "alcohol identity" increases the students' risks of developing booze issues.

Researchers from Ohio University and North Carolina State University found that alcohol-related posts on social media are better indicators compared with actually having a drink.

Study co-author Lynsey Romo, North Carolina State University's assistant professor of communication, said that the study highlights social networking sites' essential role in helping college students advertise and facilitate their own drinking experiences.

The findings also suggested that social media sites can help identify the students who have the highest risks of developing alcohol problems.

In the study, the researchers analyzed the results of an online survey conducted on 364 college students who are over 18 years old.

All of the students consumed alcoholic beverages in the month prior to the survey. Everyone was an active user of either Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

The researchers gathered the following data: alcohol consumption and problems, social media usage and alcohol-related social media usage. They also asked the participants other questions that revealed drinking motivations.

"The strongest predictor of both drinking alcohol and posting about it on SNSs was espousing an alcohol identity - meaning that the individuals considered drinking a part of who they are," said study co-author Charee Thompson, a communication studies assistant professor at Ohio University.

The surprising twist was that actually having a drink was less connected to booze problems compared with posting about alcohol consumption on social media. One possible explanation could be that posting about it online strengthens the user's involvement in the drinking culture.

This then inspires more drinking on their part, leading to alcohol problems, added Thompson. The researchers hope that the finding can help in coming up with interventions for student populations with the highest risk - the ones with the strongest alcohol identities found on social media.

For instance, school administrative officials and student leaders can scan the social media feed of students at risk of developing alcohol problems.

The study was published in the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives on May 17.

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