Researching Teenage Drinking: It’s Instagram to the Rescue!

When it comes to teens, social media is a treasure trove of information.

Instagram has become a photo journal of our day-to-day lives. Want to know what someone has been up to for the past month? Click through their Instagram posts and check out the pics. Every memorable moment, unique location or fond memory has likely been captured and shared on this wildly popular app.

Just how popular is it? There are an estimated 15.5 million teen Instagram users in the U.S. This statistic provides unique opportunities for those interested in teen behavior. With so many teens sharing their daily habits in an easily accessible format, researchers are realizing the potential and beginning to seize the opportunity.

Using Social Media to Monitor Teens

A team of researchers from the University of Rochester took a peek and discovered underage drinking patterns. By examining photos and text on Instagram, researchers were able to study what alcohol brands or types are favored by different demographic groups, when teens are most likely to drink, and any differences in drinking habits between genders.

Other studies have looked at similar patterns in the past, but Instagram offers several advantages. Those include:

  • Data is obtained quickly, as teens freely share their behaviors.
  • Images prove the information on Instagram is accurate; teens generally don't respond to surveys by giving honest answers.
  • Teens who respond to surveys might not represent the population accurately or the researchers may not receive enough responses to provide significant results.

  
Researchers also found that underage drinking occurs more at the end of the day and on weekends and holidays. (Probably no surprise.) Neither gender appeared to drink more than the other. However, each gender follows different brands of alcohol. Certain alcohol brands are followed by teenagers in general, the study also suggested. This may reveal what brands are attracting younger audiences.

Instagram Interventions

So, exactly how does the social media information you've uncovered Head researcher, Professor Jiebo Luo, recommends several specific applications for these findings.

  • Discover which alcohol brands may be using social media that targets younger audiences and encourages underage drinking
  • Inform government agencies and schools to help them design interventions
  • Use Instagram for targeted interventions
  • Use Instagram to measure the effectiveness of interventions

  
Researchers hope the use of Instagram data can help expose patterns that can then be used to create effective interventions. By finding out what brands teens prefer, or when they are most likely to drink, or if a certain demographic seems more at risk, intervention and prevention programs can be more effective. Creators of the programs can target specific topics or groups and better address the issue of underage drinking.

Image Source: iStock

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