Family Matters

Status: Drunk. Can Facebook Posts Help ID Problem Drinkers?

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It may be reassuring to parents that 64% of students had no references to alcohol use in their Facebook profiles, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. According to the problem-drinking survey, 23% of these “non-displayer” students scored high enough to be considered at risk for problem drinking. “Non-displayer doesn’t mean that someone never drinks,” says Moreno. “It means that it’s not important enough to them to make it part of their online identity.”

Similarly, while just 16% of students’ Facebook profiles fell into the “intoxication or problem drinking” group, the majority of these teens — 58% — scored in the at-risk category on the alcohol use survey. Thirty-eight percent of the online “alcohol displayers” fell into the same survey category.

Incidentally, Moreno says she’s heard that many college students have blocked their parents from viewing large chunks of their profile. Oftentimes, it’s aunts and uncles or resident assistants in the dorms who pick up on posts that may actually be a cry for help. “Our hope from this study is that we will be able to empower someone to approach a student and say, Are you doing O.K.?”

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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