Would it surprise you to learn the idea of spending spring break in sunny South Florida started in the 1930s? A college swim coach was looking for a warm place to help his team stay in shape for their upcoming season, and thus, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, became the first official destination for spring breakers in the U.S.
Today, over 40 percent of college students travel to states like Florida and Texas for their annual week of reprieve and relaxation. Studies estimate that college spring breakers spend $1 billion annually during these trips which are rife with alcohol and drugs.
We wanted to know just how prevalent drugs and alcohol are during spring break activities, so we studied over 250,000 Instagram posts and over 10,000 Instagram photos with the hashtag #SpringBreak to see which locations are the most popular and how often illicit substances are featured or mentioned. Want a snapshot of what students traveling to spring break in 2017 might experience? Continue reading to find out.
#SpringBreak Spots Across the U.S.
Spring break in the U.S. has a sordid history – and most of that history points to various locations in Florida.
Of the Instagram posts tagged with #SpringBreak, Miami Beach, Florida, had almost twice as many posts as any other city in the U.S. In fact, in 2016, so many students visited Miami for spring break, government officials forced a portion of Ocean Drive to be shut down on a Friday afternoon.
Panama City Beach – long thought of as the United States spring break capital– has also attempted to control the crowds of college partiers by passing a measure to ban drinking on its beaches during spring break, which previously drew over 500,000 college students to the area. Despite this measure, the city still sees large crowds – our analysis shows over 2,000 Instagram posts tagged with #SpringBreak in Panama City.
The second most popular spot for #SpringBreak posts in 2016 was New York City with almost 9,000 posts. While New York may not have the same fun-in-the-sun attitude as Florida, spring breakers still employ a similar party-minded attitude. For example this spring breaker’s guide to New York City recommends travelers mimic their beach dwelling counterparts by grabbing a cocktail at the bar upon arrival in the Big Apple.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism indicates that more than half of all male college students and a third of females will binge drink at some point during their college career and more than 1,800 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries. As we will continue to explore, spring break and alcohol often go hand in hand.
Cities With the Most Drugs and Alcohol in #SpringBreak Posts
From pop culture references to reality TV series, spring break has a reputation for bringing college kids and alcohol or drugs together.
That reputation may not be far off, even if the consequences of consumption don’t earn as much airtime. Our study of the top 10 cities using the #SpringBreak hashtag on Instagram and over 1,200 posts determined the percentage of posts that pictured drugs, alcohol, or both.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had the highest percentage of alcohol-related #SpringBreak Instagram posts, with 16 percent of the 1,200 photos featuring drinks of some sort. Nearly 15 percent of the #SpringBreak posts in Harlingen, Texas, also included alcohol, as did over 12 percent of those from Miami Beach.
New York City had the highest percentage of posts featuring marijuana (which is not currently legal in New York). While many assume marijuana is harmless, the consequences of misuse can include long-term physical effects and mental illness such as depression, anxiety, hallucinations, or paranoia.
While alcohol and marijuana are the most commonly used substances among college students, narcotics like ecstasy may also be on the menu for partiers. Miami Beach and San Francisco had the highest percentage of other types of drugs pictured in their #SpringBreak posts.
Drugs and Alcohol Instagram Captions
While many students photographed with drugs or alcohol, others explicitly referenced them in the caption of the photos using hashtags. Of the posts that mentioned drugs and alcohol in the comments or descriptions, 76 percent exclusively referenced alcohol. While alcohol may be the most accessible and socially acceptable substance for students to consume, the over-consumption of alcohol is dangerous and its effects should not be underestimated.
The prevalence of alcohol during spring break can create situations where students may feel pressured to drink or drink more than a comfortable amount. Studies indicate that young adults feel added pressure to fit in during social events. When alcohol is an unquestioned party guest, students are likely to believe that maintaining sobriety is not an option.
Of the #SpringBreak photos that featured drugs or alcohol, 20 percent mentioned marijuana in the captions. Marijuana is seen as a recreational drug, but studies show that individuals who use marijuana regularly may see their memory, learning ability, and impulse control impacted by extended use.
A smaller amount of Instagram spring break posts (2 percent) referenced cocaine or MDMA. These substances are illegal for use at any age, and are extremely dangerous.drugs pictured in their #SpringBreak posts.
Beverage of Choice on Instagram
As previously noted, of substances mentioned in #SpringBreak Instagram posts, we found that drinking related tags were featured the most. This pattern continued when we looked at state-level data.
In 2015, the U.S. sold the equivalent of more than 2.8 billion cases of beer – earning over $100 billion annually. While the overall sale of beer has remained relatively unchanged over the past several decades, alcohol advertising revenue has increased more than 400 percent over the last 40 years as brands attempt to capture market loyalty. Research has found these advertisements may be disproportionately targeted toward young people which may explain the patterns of over consumption among young adults.
There’s no question beer is accessible to students and teenagers during spring break. According to research, the binge drinking that takes place in college can have long-term consequences. A study found those who started drinking before age 15 were four times more likely to develop alcohol dependency later in life.
Our state-level data shows a common trend of the word “drink” used to reference alcohol. While it’s unclear if these tags relate to hard liquor or beer, we know from past studies that teenagers typically favor hard liquor over beer or wine. The dangers of spring break “drinks” are augmented when we consider the over consumption of more hard liquors like vodka, rum and tequila.
Likes on Drug or Alcohol #SpringBreak Posts
To better understand the influence of alcohol and drug-related Instagram posts, we next examined how peers responded to their friends’ Instagram posts. Our analysis found that students were more likely to “like” an Instagram post that contained drugs or alcohol than a post without drugs or alcohol. In fact, #SpringBreak photos taken in Miami Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., all earned more likes if they featured drugs or alcohol in the post.
Studies have found that regardless of the content, teenagers and young adults are more likely to like a photograph they perceive as popular if others have already liked it. In the case of drugs and alcohol, students may be more likely to perceive excessive or binge drinking as socially acceptable because they see so many photos of such activities. On average, Instagram pictures posted in Miami Beach featuring drugs or alcohol were liked over 125 times compared to only 88 likes for photos that didn’t contain either substance.
Where Spring Break Posts Reign
Beach cities like Miami are the quintessential hot spot for spring break activities, and some of these beach cities have earned a reputation on Instagram for their #SpringBreak posts featuring drugs, alcohol, or both.
Miami topped the charts for the most #SpringBreak Instagram posts in 2016 with more than 16,000 individual pictures. Miami Beach had almost eight times as many posts as any part of the country, including other Florida cities like Panama City Beach, Clearwater Beach, and Daytona Beach.
Drugs and Alcohol on the Beach
Beach cities aren’t just popular for spring break activities – they’re also a hotbed for drug and alcohol related social media posts while college students are visiting. Our study found that nearly 10 percent of all #SpringBreak posts in Miami Beach mentioned some combination of alcohol or illicit substances. Fellow Florida coastal cities West Palm Beach and Saint Pete Beach had 8 percent or more, while Long Beach in California had almost 9 percent.
While alcohol consumption among college spring breakers may sound harmless, studies point to the fact that the majority of college drinking activities revolve around over consumption. According to the National Institutes of Health, 20 percent of college students are considered problem drinkers in the U.S.
The Long-Term Effects of a Short Vacation
Social media impacts young minds in dangerous ways, and parents may have an even more difficult time monitoring the interactions and exposure that teens and young adults experience online. As our data shows, hundreds of thousands of spring break photos tagged on Instagram featured images or mentions of alcohol and drugs. Even in isolated instances like a spring break party, the long-term effects of drinking at a young age can last a lifetime.
If you suspect your teenager is struggling with alcohol or drug misuse, visit us at ProjectKnow.com. We provide information to help parents and teens understand drug and alcohol misuse and addiction as well as resources to help you navigate treatment and detox options. It’s never too late to have a conversation with your teen about alcohol and drug use.
We collected Instagram posts that contained the hashtag #SpringBreak posted between January 2016 and January 2017. Of all posts, we examined a random sample of 1,200 photos from each of the top 10 cities, based on the total number of #SpringBreak posts. We asked a group of people to determine the presence of drugs or alcohol in each photo.
Mentions of alcohol, drink, beer, brew, wine, vodka, rum, tequila, shots, cocktail, margarita, keg, bottle, whisky, and bourbon were categorized as alcohol. Mentions of 420, weed, blaze, joint, cannabis, ganja, hash, and bong were categorized as cannabis. Mentions of MDMA, ecstasy, and rolling were categorized as MDMA. Mentions of cocaine were categorized as cocaine.