Teens Who Drink Seem Drawn to Social Networking Sites

Finding reflects youths' experimenting with alcohol and the Internet, expert says

FRIDAY, May 13 (HealthDay News) -- Teenagers who drink are more likely to spend extra hours at their computers for activities not related to their schoolwork, a new study shows.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City found that visiting social networking sites and downloading or listening to music are among the pastimes linked to drinking.

The study, published in the May issue of Addictive Behaviors, anonymously surveyed 264 American teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 17. The research showed that teens who reported drinking in the past month used a computer for recreational activities for more hours a week than teens who said they did not drink. No link was found between alcohol and computer use for educational purposes, and the researchers found no significant connection between video games or online shopping and drinking.

"While the specific factors linking teenage drinking and computer use are not yet established, it seems likely that adolescents are experimenting with drinking and activities on the Internet," study author Jennifer Epstein, a public health researcher at Weill Cornell, said in a news release from the university. "In turn, exposure to online material such as alcohol advertising or alcohol-using peers on social networking sites could reinforce teens' drinking."

The findings should serve as a red flag for parents, Epstein noted. "Children are being exposed to computers and the Internet at younger ages," she said. "For this reason, it's important that parents are actively involved in monitoring their children's computer usage, as well as alcohol use."

Epstein added that parents might also need to reinforce their ground rules on both alcohol consumption and computer time. Among the risk factors for teenage alcohol abuse:

  • Lax parental supervision
  • Poor communication between parents and teens
  • Family conflicts
  • Inconsistent or harsh discipline
  • A family history of alcohol or drug abuse

"The Internet offers a wealth of information and opportunities for intellectual and social enrichment," Gil Botvin, chief of the division of prevention and health behavior at Weill Cornell, said in the news release. "However, it is becoming clear that there may also be a downside to Internet use. More systematic research is needed to better understand those potential dangers and how to combat them."

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on teenagers and Internet safety.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCES: Weill Cornell Medical College, news release, May 9, 2011

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